Read The Taverner Novels: Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner by Mary Butts Online


These two novels, Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner-out of print since originally published in 1928 and 1932-form what is almost certainly her masterpiece, a mythic yet contemporary tale of struggle against spiritual alienation. On the remote southwestern coast along the English Channel, a group of young bohemians have gathered, in retreat from the psycholoThese two novels, Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner-out of print since originally published in 1928 and 1932-form what is almost certainly her masterpiece, a mythic yet contemporary tale of struggle against spiritual alienation. On the remote southwestern coast along the English Channel, a group of young bohemians have gathered, in retreat from the psychological cataclysm of World War and in search of a moral value on which to base their lives. Armed with Madness begins by invoking an ancient enchantment, a numinous vision of coincident reality, where love can also lead to insanity. Scylla Taverner, her brother Felix, her soon-to-be lover Picus, and their closely knit circle of English, Russian and American friends, retrieve an ancient chalice, which may be the Sanc-Grail. Together they enter upon a psychological and sexual exploration fraught with exhilarating possibility and violent consequence. Five years later, in Death of Felicity Taverner the quest is renewed, this time to discover a buried truth. Was Felicity's death accidental? A suicide? Or a murder? As the mystery unravels, Felicity's opportunistic widower unveils a plan with a vacation-home development, inciting a drama played out between conscience and evil....

Title : The Taverner Novels: Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner
Author :
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ISBN : 9780929701189
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 374 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Taverner Novels: Armed with Madness and Death of Felicity Taverner Reviews

  • mark monday
    2019-05-29 03:43

    review for Armed with Madness here.a bed of roses should have been sweet Felicity's place of repose, herself an English rose, one more delicate than that often hardy breed, but English through and through. a certain kind of English - to the manor born, as they say, but destined to live out her life in a country cottage. alas, poor Felicity! too good for this world, too fragile, too in love with the idea of love, with the idea of a world of beauty; too easily wounded by the thorny realities of both. farewell sweet Felicity, dainty flower, found dead in a muddy ditch.a manor full of English flowers, last seen Armed with Madness, now finding themselves bereft of weapons altogether. poor little flowers! trapped in their little world.what can a flower do against encroaching evil, the banality of it? how can a flower halt construction? the taking away of English countrysides, the slow push from callow, selfish men and women with small, small minds and a desire to take and take and take. how can a flower solve the mystery of even one woman's lonely death? a flower bobs with the breeze, turns to the sun, wilts from the lack of it... how can a flower protect its surroundings or save a person from their fate? they are trapped in their English dirt. such flowers can only hope for the best, huddling close to each other and dreaming their flowery little lives away.four years passed before this strange and often lovely book followed its predecessor, Armed with Madness. that novel's cast of characters has been trimmed, all the better to place in this glassy narrow vessel. Mary Butts' relationship to her characters has changed as well: what were once a flock of chattering, untrustworthy birds have become transformed: those that remain are as perfect flowers in a perfect English garden, frail and exquisite, symbols of all that is good and kind. and yet their scent is not an overly intense one, nor cloying, their goodness and kindness wispy and ineffective but still a pleasure to experience. it is as if all of that noisome thoughtlessness and backstabbing, their preening and posing, were but a stage in their development, a brief stop along their way to adulthood. I far prefer these winsome, sheltered flowers to those troublesome birds.poor Mary Butts, to the manor born, a writer of prickly talent, a lover of men and women, friend to Jean Cocteau and Ezra Pound, acolyte of Aleister Crowley, a modernist of sublime but wayward talent, now forlornly obscure. a repulsive obsession with The Problem of the Jew, creeping quietly through her story, delicately broached at first, a comment here and there, a slight slight, and then becoming increasingly bold, the Jews a symbol to Butts of all that is coarse and grasping in the world, her anti-Semitism unfolding like a malicious flower of evil. best to stamp out such poisonous blossoms! alas, Mary Butts, such a rare mind and yet one held back by its own smallness, the toxic quality of her prejudice decaying the beauty of her talent.but talent will out and Mary's talent blooms beautifully from this book, despite the rancid garbage smell wafting from her moronic malice towards the Jewish kind. her delightfully off-kilter way with words, the love of country and cottage, her sharp and peppery dialogue, the palpable distaste for crudity and unkindness, her skittish narrative perfectly matching her high-strung characters, the sentimental but never mawkish love of England. her tenderness when revealing the inner lives of her favorites and the melancholy ruminations of those creations, full of wonder at how little they truly know. the halting, flowing rhythm of her prose. and, as with Armed with Madness, an ending replete with shocking but coolly described violence, coming from a minor character in the preceding work, now a central one in this novel. cruel and careful Boris, an outlier among these flimsy flowers! his violence was quite a refreshing tonic, an exciting exclamation point at the end of a long and winding sentence.poor Boris, a Russian exile, trapped beyond his means in a bed of English roses, an amoral young man hardened by his life, once a delicate flower himself before the White Russians were driven out by the Red. he is a far more interesting interloper than the American abroad of the first novel. Mary Butts is at her best when spending time with this amusing, brooding, unpredictable, nakedly vulnerable, coldly ambitious, hungry, greedy fellow. the mystery of poor Felicity Taverner's death may never truly be solved, but sweet, heartless Boris will exact his revenge nonetheless.

  • Jonathan
    2019-06-25 03:01

    Wonderful-strange. Woolf thought her work "indecent", and refused to publish it with Hogarth. She is called (when she is mentioned at all) "difficult" or "enigmatic". She is little read and little liked. It is not hard to see why. There is much in her worldview for us to dislike: a type of conservatism which idealises the bucolic English past; anti-Semitism; romantic myths of world-shattering emotional turmoil; and a general conception of the foreigner as being somehow demonic. Any yet, despite all of that, there is something extraordinary here. A radical femininity, a radical ecology, a queerness, a bisexual woman's fascination with the experience of the homosexual man. Her world has been shattered by the trenches of WW1 and, while she recognises that we stand in the Waste Land, she does not think the Grail lost. It is clear in its critique of the patriarchy, and its detached descriptions of violence against women are made more powerful by their lack of drama. That she was a reader of Blake, that she regularly took Opium, that she believed in "ancient magic" and hung around with Aleister Crowley, all of this is visible in her prose. This may annoy the hell out of you, or it may not. I was worried it would but found, almost immediately, that the quality of her writing on the level of the sentence and the paragraph was enough to keep me completely engaged.Fans of Lispector, Joy Williams, John Cowper Powys etc will probably find much here to like. Her publisher says this about her:"“A distinctive and original voice within the Modernist movement, the English novelist Mary Butts was a prodigy of style, learning and energy, who wrote with powerful insight about the Lost Generation. At the time of her premature death in 1937 her novels and stories had gained a formidable reputation, and were compared with Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot. Her career was championed by Ezra Pound, Robert McAlmon, Ford Madox Ford, Charles Williams, and May Sinclair.Her notorious lifestyle in London and France in the 1920s–smoking opium with Jean Cocteau, studying magic with Aleister Crowley, or throwing parties for Evelyn Waugh and Paul Robeson–overshadowed the importance of her work. The last decade, however, has seen a resurgence of interest in Mary Butts the writer, and her work has joined that of her contemporaries H.D., Djuna Barnes, and Mina Loy, for its centrality to literary Modernism. Since 1991, McPherson & Company has issued four uniform volumes of her writings (with more to come), a volume of critical essays, and now the first biography of this great lost Modernist."Writers No One Reads said this: is BURIED, though we are lucky that most of her work has recently been brought back into print and can be easily located.

  • Eddie Watkins
    2019-06-26 23:05

    What an enjoyable but strange and difficult book! It is endlessly allusive, in style and subject, and how could it not be as it's a contemporary (late 1920's) naturalistic telling of the grail legend. Mary Butts could not let a sentence go by without a peculiar syntactical twist or weird compression of meaning(s), but instead of seeming willfully obscure or eccentric this tendency fits like a glove the story being told, plus there's a plentiful playfulness and spontaneity that lighten the load: at times the characters break out in song (or at least into quotations of poetry), and one section of the book with very little transition becomes an opera libretto.The story is set in a remote part of Cornwall, on the edge of a woods near a cliff (modelled I believe on a house where the author lived late in life), and involves a group of young artists and friends of artists who find what might be the actual Holy Grail in an old well. It then charts the changes wrought, and the aftermath, which is as tangled as a scrambled multiplication table. In the introduction there's an excerpt from her journals where she says that during the composition of the book she and T. S. Eliot were both working simultaneously on a grail work, but his was sans grail and hers was the finding of the grail. This is evidence to me that she held out a little more hope for the modern world, was definitely less a pessimist as regards the physical world than Eliot; but still she was no accepter of easy solutions, and was well versed with the brambly paths any search for "higher" knowledge presents. She lived at Aleister Crowley's Loch Ness castle for a time afterall, and if Crowley isn't the embodiment of a dark brambly path to higher knowledge no one is.I'd like to find out more about Mary Butts' personal life and there is an authoritative biography so it shouldn't be hard. She "knew everyone", as is said, in Paris, and lived a somewhat scandalous life (sexual intrigue, drug addiction (from which she prematurely died)) which can make for a juicy bio. I'm interested in that but I'm also interested in her sincere attempt to show in her works how a transformation of the physical world can be effected through thought and will and love. She was an extreme nature mystic after all.*This review only covers one novel in this collection, Armed With Madness

  • knig
    2019-05-29 23:52

    I scooped this one up from writers no one reads and it went thixotropic on me soon after a promising start, and then just oozed and splatted all over the place: a rudderless effort which couldn’t be reigned in for love or money. I hate it when a kernel of pure genius dies in utero like that. I practically have the urge to start at page 57 and rewrite the rest for the poor woman. A palpitating, gothic thriller which opens in medias ras during a post mortem late night séance of Felicity Taverner’s death in Daphne du Maurier country, complete with a Bachelardian house of memories and stocked with Cluedo-ian suspects: anyone could have done it with the candlestick in the dining room, a Poe-an deliciously umbral tension vitiating about as a group of friends rehash the life and times of Felicity. And then….splat and splodge. We’re done with Felicty ere we began, and some woebegone silly plot lines unfurl from the main body like dead Twin parts that haven’t been reabsorbed in utero and now protrude monstrously from the survivor: you just don’t know what to do with them. Blackmail over Felicity’s diaries that no one wants to read, turning Cornish land into hotels, buying more land, crowned with a senseless murder, just…wtf? Mary. Whats going on here, Mary? Why the kitchen sink?

  • Sean
    2019-06-04 05:56

    [rating this 4 overall; 3 for Death of Felicity Taverner]A bold contrast separates these two novels by lost modernist Mary Butts. The first is all frenetic energy and youthful exuberance, passions running hot and cold, spurned lovers, sprites scampering through the forest, and one confused American trying to make sense of it all. It's permeated with magickal spirit and the beauty of Nature, described in vivid language and with inventive technique. The second, featuring some of the same characters, chiefly from the Taverner family, unfolds several years later. Here we find the Taverner siblings, Scylla and Felix, more staid and settled. Now married to her lover Picus, Scylla is still full of life but perhaps not so flighty as in the first book. The focus here is on the death of the siblings' cousin Felicity, which has left them reeling, and also which seems to have occurred under mysterious circumstances. To make matters worse, Felicity's husband Kralin (if that's not a villainous name, I don't know what is) from whom she had been estranged has descended upon her house with nefarious plans in mind. Likewise, Felicity's mother and brother have appeared with the express purpose of monitoring Kralin's movements and perhaps to sell Felicity's house to him for some outrageous sum. The novel plunges forward deep into family drama, and while it maintains some thread of suspenseful plot, it meanders widely and moves at a much slower pace and at a greater narrative distance than Armed with Madness. There is none of the immediacy and freewheeling spontaneity of that former novel, only a gradual unspooling of the calculated interpersonal machinations of a sort foreign to the Taverner sibilngs, but quite familiar to brother Felix's rescued Russian fancy boy Boris, who comes to act as intermediary between the siblings and their aunt and cousin. Felicity's ghost haunts the pages of the book, as it does the characters, who struggle to go on after her death, wondering how to fill the void left by her absence and likewise how to honor her memory, to prevent her death from being in vain.The death of Felicity Taverner—the double death, to the body and to the memory of her—that was terrible, it held much of the horror of life, but as if in a crystal, in miniature. Full of anguish, it was at the same time, a manageable tragedy, and so to be endured. But behind it lay a second attack, immeasurably, the most formidable, the attack on their bodies, nerves, roots, the essence of their make-up, in the attack on their land.(view spoiler)[Curiously, the most notable similarity I found between these two very different works was the sudden and unexpected acts of violence which mark both of them: in Armed with Madness, the assault by bow and arrow of Clarence upon Scylla; and in Death of Felicity Taverner, the murder of Kralin by Boris, which forms the finale of the novel. In both books, though their pacing and style are quite different, these two acts completely disrupt and disturb the current of the prose, though not in a way that detracts from the quality of the writing or integrity of the storytelling. (hide spoiler)]

  • Elizabeth
    2019-06-21 23:42

    This is a very unusual and fascinating text. I've only read the first of the two stories. I'm looking forward to the second one very much. Butts’ departure from conventional syntax along with powerful characterizations of things like light, silence, and color make the novel read like a long narrative poem. She writes about ways of sensing things in ways that often seem so obvious as to be invisible until she points them out and makes them become overwhelmingly apparent. The earth takes on the dual role of provider and predator. Humans seem to as occupy the world much like livestock occupy modern farms. The earth is content to keep them and feed them until it sees fit to kill them. Butts seems to consider life to be “a horror and an insult” and to see human activity simply as oil for the machine that is the planet. She expresses this explicitly by pointing out that the lives of the most enlightened humans were as futile as any. The theme of the “moral search” in which the characters engage, along with the view of life as ultimately futile reminds me of the existentialists with maybe a glaze of the transcendental. This seemingly bleak view of human life as futile is balanced by the perception of a magic about it. Scylla points out “that odd things were always happening, and old patterns repeated themselves” (16).

  • Rebecca
    2019-06-24 03:42

    ARMED WITH MADNESS REVIEW:Four months later I am actually getting around to writing a review for this book so forgive me if my memory is a little foggy. I found Armed with Madness to be a very unaccessible novel. I really had no idea what was going on half the time and would show up to my English lecture hoping that my prof would be able to make some sense out of it. However, I will give Mary Butts bonus points for the amazing title. Also, Scylla is a bit of a dick without really having any cause for being one. From this book I did, however, find some potential working titles for my upcoming memoirs:"How to pretend to be the devil you are afraid to be.How to be a grand seigneur on nothing a year.How to be yourself when you do not know that self, and are afraid to find out."DEATH OF FELICITY TAVERNER REVIEW:Not yet read.

  • Susan
    2019-06-09 23:45

    Mary Butts was a modernist writer who deserves to be much better known and read than she is. Her intense focus on the thoughts and sensations of her characters reminds me a little of Henry James, but unlike James her style consists of short, sharp sentences, and for her nature is sacred. Her concerns include how to live in a world (of the 20's) that has lost faith, hope, and morality (not morality in the narrow sense of sexual morality, but of the larger, almost spiritual kind).

  • James Cook
    2019-06-21 04:40

    Honestly I've only read the first book in this collection, Armed With Madness, and am saving The Death of Felicity Taverner for later. Armed with Madness sucked me in quickly and didn't let up. Butts was a lovely prose stylist and the undercurrents of Grail mythology and symbolism in this work provide a true depth to the interactions of the bohemian characters. I'll be trying to read everything Butts wrote. Beautiful prose.

  • Tony Gualtieri
    2019-06-26 05:44

    These are beautifully written novels, filled with magic and ritual, suffused with the sea, hills, and woods of southwest England. While set in the contemporary world of early 20th century, they have the sensibility of Arthurian romances. Butts has a unique prose style, characterized by short phrases and abrupt periods. Her sentences have the quality of breath.

  • aya
    2019-06-09 03:53

    I have completely fallen in love with Mary Butts. Her strange blood intelligence, the tortured, the mystical. A close little world where reality is the wood, the sea, the puzzling group of humans who have created their own artistic hierarchy rooted in myth and nature.

  • K.c.
    2019-06-06 06:07

    The kind of book I might have to read again to understand completely, but I would be willing to do so.

  • Larry-bob Roberts
    2019-06-08 05:40

    Two books about the same group of young bohemians in 1920s Britain. There is grail quest symbology; Butts' writing style is totally unique, with the only comparison being Jane Bowles' diction.

  • Nate D
    2019-06-20 04:56

    Armed With Madness first, here. Death of Felicity Taverner to come.