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The enchantment of place: Mary Butts, Wessex, and interwar neo-romanticism

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This article offers an interdisciplinary view of the complex iconography of ‘Wessex-ness’ in the politically disruptive writing of Mary Butts (1890–1937). My argument locates Butts' theories of historically embedded selfhood in the context of interwar neo-romanticism led by the landscape painter, illustrator and designer Paul Nash's articles on the national disposition of contemporary pictorial expression. The neo-romantic enterprise sought to evoke and enshrine mystical unspoilt hinterlands in the furthest corners of the island nation; its ideals left a clear imprint on cultural artefacts and practices as various as travelogues, mass advertising publicity, urban planning and aerial archaeology. However Mary Butts' journalistic and fictional texts reveal a radically ambivalent attitude towards this cultural phenomenon. Indeed, her neo-romantic stress on safeguarding the ‘streams’ of ‘Wessex’ from external threat blurs into a partisan and divisive chauvinism that upholds an ethos of territorial as well as ethnic purity.
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Keywords: English regional identity; Mary Butts; citizenship; cultural geography; neo-romanticism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

Publication date: 01 June 2012

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