Mary MacLane’s I Await the Devil’s Coming, the newest title from Melville House Book’s series of reissued and sometimes forgotten classics, The Neversink Library, is a book unlike any I’ve ever read. It’s not so much a memoir or a work of self-examination as it is one nineteen year old girl’s attempt to do both of these.
Mary MacLane led a boring and lonely life in Butte, Montana at the turn of the nineteenth century. She received a strong education that prepared her for a world that was closed off to her, both because she was female and because she lived in Butte. Her precociousness led her inward, and this book, her first, with the extraordinary title I Await the Devil’s Coming, was a sensation, selling a hundred thousand copies when it was first published. My instinct is to attribute its success not to the work as a whole, since it holds together neither as a memoir nor anything else, but as a strong spirit’s intellectual début, having the problems that first steps usually do.
What’s notable in the book is her voice: her enthusiasm, her arrogance, her intensity, her insistent blasphemy. She wants to shock because this is how she hopes to get noticed. Her poetry is one of extremes: the lust for happiness and the despair for life. Here are twenty-five of the best examples of her writing.
Click any of the thumbnails below to launch the gallery.