Mary MacLane (May 1, 1881 — c. 6 August 1929) was a controversial Canadian-born American writer whose frank memoirs helped usher in the confessional style of autobiographical writing. MacLane was known as the "Wild Woman of Butte".
MacLane was a very popular author for her time, scandalizing the populace with her shocking bestselling first memoir and to a lesser extent her two following books. She was considered wild and uncontrolled, a reputation she nurtured, and was openly bisexual as well as a vocal feminist. In her writings, she compared herself to another frank young memoirist, Marie Bashkirtseff, who died a few years after MacLane was born, and H. L. Mencken called her "the Butte Bashkirtseff."
MacLane was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1881, but her family moved to the Red River area of Minnesota, settling in Fergus Falls, which her father helped develop. After his death in 1889, her mother remarried a family friend and lawyer, H. Gysbert Klenze. Soon after, the family moved to Montana, first settling in Great Falls and finally in Butte, where Klenze drained the family funds pursuing mining and other ventures. MacLane spent the remainder of her life in the United States. She began writing for her school paper in 1898.
From the beginning, MacLane's writing was characterized by a direct, fiery, highly individualistic style. She was, however, also strongly influenced by such American regional realists as John Townsend Trowbridge (with whom she exchanged a few letters), Maria Louise Pool, and Hamlin Garland.
At the age of 19 in 1901, MacLane wrote her first book, titled by its author I Await the Devil's Coming but changed by its publishers, Herbert S. Stone & Co., to The Story of Mary MacLane. It sold 100,000 copies in the first month and was powerfully influential on young women, but was pilloried by conservative critics and readers, and lightly ridiculed by H. L. Mencken.
Some critics have suggested that even by today's standards, MacLane's writing is raw, honest, unflinching, self-aware, sensual, and extreme. She wrote openly about egoism and her own self-love, about sexual attraction and love for other women, and even about her desire to marry the Devil.
Her second book, My Friend Annabel Lee was published by Stone in 1903. More experimental in style than her debut book, it was not nearly so sensational, though MacLane was said to have made a fairly large amount of money.
Her final book, I, Mary Maclane: A Diary of Human Days was published by Frederick A. Stokes in 1917 and sold moderately well but may have been overshadowed by America's recent entry into World War I.
In 1917, she wrote and starred in the 90-minute autobiographical silent film titled Men Who Have Made Love to Me, for Essanay Studios. Produced by film pioneer George Kirke Spoor and based on MacLane's 1910 article of the same title for a Butte newspaper, it has been speculated to have been as an extremely early, if not the earliest, sustained breaking of the fourth wall in cinema, with the writer-star directly addressing the audience. Though stills and some subtitles have survived, the film is now believed to be lost.
Among the numerous authors who referenced, parodied, or answered MacLane were Mark Twain, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harriet Monroe, famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, Ring Lardner Jr., Sherwood Anderson and Daniel Clowes in Ice Haven. Among the less-remembered was Gertrude Sanborn, who published an optimistic riposte to MacLane's 1917 I, Mary MacLane under the title I, Citizen of Eternity (1920).
MacLane had always chafed, or felt, "anxiety of place," at living in Butte, which was a mining city far from cultural centers, and used the money from her first book's sales to travel to Chicago, then Massachusetts. She lived in Rockland, Massachusetts, wintering in St. Augustine, Florida, from 1903–1908, then in Greenwich Village from 1908–1909, where she continued writing and, by her own account, living a decadent and Bohemian existence. She was close friends with the feminist writer Inez Haynes Irwin, who is mentioned in MacLane's private correspondence and is referenced in some of MacLane's 1910 writing in a Butte newspaper.
MacLane died in Chicago in early August 1929, aged 48. She was soon forgotten and her prose remained out of print until late 1993, when The Story of Mary MacLane and some of her newspaper feature work was republished in Tender Darkness: A Mary MacLane Anthology.
In January 2011, the publisher of Tender Darkness (1993) announced forthcoming publication of an integrated complete-works anthology and biographical study of MacLane. The first volume, Human Days: A Mary MacLane Reader (with Foreword by Bojana Novakovic), was published in late 2014. The next installments - the multi-volume Mary in The Press: Miss MacLane and Her Fame (which will collect for the first time the enormous primary-source record of the sensation during her life and after) and the a biographical/interpretive study, A Quite Unusual Intensity of Life: The Lives, Works, and Influence of Mary MacLane, also issued under the Petrarca Press logo, are to be published in 2015; these volumes are to total 1800+ pages.
In 2011 Novakovic wrote and performed "The Story of Mary MacLane - By Herself" in Melbourne, Australia, which was subsequently staged in Sydney, Australia in 2012. Both were well received by critics and audiences.