I Await the Devil’s Coming by Mary MacLane

“This is not a diary. It is a Portrayal.” 

mary maclaneThis is how nineteen-year-old Mary MacLane labelled her “diary” which ultimately became her first book. Canadian-born Butte, Montana resident, Mary MacLane who was entirely fed up with the boredom of her life and tediousness of her neighbors, took pen to paper and began in January 1901 to write down her daily thoughts and philosophies.

Firstly, the book (which is being reprinted by Melville House) is a tornado. It immediately swept me up, invigorated me, and made me want to shout Mary MacLane’s name from the proverbial hilltops. Much of her entries detail her desire to leave the bored and hypocritical town where she lives and move on to bigger and better things–to a place that will understand her genius. She writes in a poetic style at times. By this I mean many entries are exquisitely crafted with rhythm, sound, attention to syntax, and a purposeful repetition of words and phrases.

“They are very few who give the Devil his due in this world of hypocrites.”

Throughout the passages, MacLane is writing either to a potential reader or to the Devil, himself. To her, the Devil represents a place or a purpose far away from Butte, Montana. She is critical of the people who marry and consider themselves God-fearing folk, but she is quick to propose a union between herself and the Devil. She has imagined conversations with him and frequently writes about waiting for him: “The Devil has not yet come. But I know that he usually comes, and I await him eagerly.”

While reading this book–and, especially, the beginning with all of its angst and passion on super-drive–I knew that this was a perfect dose of intensity that I needed. To be shaken up; to get out of the slump I felt about my own book’s “voice”; a shot of this vigor and imagination is what I needed because of the current book I am writing which has a female narrator whose voice is filled with anxiety and strives for something else, while still retaining her sense of humor (“I never learned to sew, and I don’t intend ever to learn. It reminds me too much of a constipated dressmaker,” writes MacLane).

The introduction to “I Await the Devil’s Coming,” is a perfect compendium to both the book and to Mary MacLane’s own life. She was able to escape Butte, Montana after her book became a smash hit. “By her own account she lived a decadent life during these years” when she was in Chicago and New York City. She wrote two follow-up books, articles, and starred in a film based on one of her books which has, unfortunately, been lost. But why am I just hearing about Mary MacLane now, you ask? Although, she had success during her lifetime, she died in a Chicago rooming house under “unknown circumstances.” She and her work were immediately forgotten. For more info about her life, check out The Atlantic article.

Although, MacLane’s personal narrative came out over a hundred years ago, it still smacks of the contemporary. This is highly recommended. Hop over to the publisher’s site to read the first few pages.

By the end of the book, I found myself with Mary awaiting the arrival of the Devil.

“When the Devil comes over the hill with Happiness I will rush at him frantically headlong–and nothing else will matter.”

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