Through her work, the Dorset-born Mary Butts (1890–1937) expresses a quintessentially modernist tension between a deep sense of attachment to rural England and the allure of cosmopolitan modernity. This article argues that the adventure and power promised by the latter inform Butts’s attempts to articulate a posthuman relationship with rural place. Her marginalization of the human supports a posthuman ethics by expressing coexistence and interrelation between human and nonhuman entities. Consequently, Butts explores a mode of engagement with landscape that moves beyond anthropocentrism and has significance for environmentalist ethics. This article traces the stylistic and formal influence of cosmopolitan and metropolitan experience upon Butts’s evocations of rural Dorset before looking at her work’s ethical implications in more detail. It examines some of the tensions that arise as a result of her reactionary tendencies and concludes that despite Butts’s intuitive sensitivity to the nonhuman energies that permeate human society and culture, her work betrays an elitist resistance to the inclusion of all sociocultural groupings within an idealized English community.
Cosmopolitanism and Environmental Ethics in Mary Butts’s Dorset
Sam Wiseman is lecturer and tutor in the department of English and American studies at the University of Potsdam, Germany. A monograph version of his thesis, The Reimagining of Place in English Modernism, is being published by Clemson University Press; he has also published articles on Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence, and he is the editor of the cross-disciplinary essay collection Assembling Identities (2014).
Sam Wiseman; Cosmopolitanism and Environmental Ethics in Mary Butts’s Dorset. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2015; 61 (3): 373–391. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-3154003
Download citation file: