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by Bamber Gascoigne

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) - Pseudonym of Kathleen Murry, original name Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp


New Zealand's most famous writer, who was closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and something of a rival of Virginia Woolf. Katherine Mansfield's creative years were burdened with loneliness, illness, jealousy, alienation – all this reflected in her work with the bitter depiction of marital and family relationships of her middle-class characters. Her short stories are also notable for their use of stream of consciousness. Like the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Mansfield depicted trivial events and subtle changes in human behavior.

"Henry was a great fellow for books. He did not read many nor did he possess above half a dozen. He looked at all in the Charing Cross Road during lunch-time and at any odd time in London; the quantity with which he was on nodding terms was amazing. By his clean neat handling of them and by his nice choice of phrase when discussing them with one or another bookseller you would have thought that he had taken his pap with a tome propped before his nurse's bosom. But you would have been wrong." (from 'Something Childish But Very Natural')

Katherine Mansfield was born in Wellington, New Zealand, into a middle-class colonial family. Her father, Harold Beauchamp, was a banker and her mother, Annie Burnell Dyer, was of genteel origins. She lived for six years in the rural village of Karori. Later on Mansfield said "I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all." At the age of nine she had her first story published. Entitled 'Enna Blake' it appeared in The High School Reporter in Wellington, with the editor's comment, that it "shows promise of great merit".

As a first step to her rebellion against her background, she withdrew to London in 1903 and studied at Queen's College, where she joined the staff of the College Magazine. Back in New Zealand in 1906, she then took up music, and had affairs with both men and women. Her father denied her the opportunity to become a professional cello player – she was an accomplished violoncellist. In 1908 she studied typing and bookkeeping at Wellington Technical College. Her lifelong friend Ida Baker (L.M., Leslie Moore in her diary and correspondence) persuaded Mansfield's father to allow Katherine to move back to England, with an allowance of £100 a year. There she devoted herself to writing. Mansfield never visited New Zealand again.

After an unhappy marriage in 1909 to George Brown, whom she left a few days after the wedding, Mansfield toured for a while as an extra in opera. Before the marriage she had an affair with Garnett Trowell, a musician, and became pregnant. In Bavaria, where Mansfield spent some time, she suffered a miscarriage. During her stay in Germany she wrote satirical sketches of German characters, which were published in 1911 under the title In a German Pension. Her early stories had appeared in A.R. Orage's The New Age. Orage offered her encouragement, friendship, tea or coffee and cigarrettes. ". . . you taught me to write, you taught me to think, you showed me what there was to be done and what not to do," she  said of Orage. He also knewBeatrice Hastings , a poet and supporter of the suffragette movent, with whom Mansfield formed a friendship.  As an independent literary woman, Beatrice became a model for Mansfield.

On her return to London, Mansfield became ill with an untreated sexually transmitted disease she contracted from Floryan Sobieniowski; a condition which contributed to her weak health for the rest of her life. Sobieniowski was a Polish émigré translator, whom she met in Germany. Mansfield first story published in England was 'The Child-Who-Was-Tired', about a overworked nursemaid who kills a baby – it has been claimed that it was a copy of Chekhov's story 'Spat Khochetsia' (1888, Sleepyhead). The story appeared in The New Age of February 24th, 1910.

Mansfield attended literary parties without much enthusiasm: "Pretty rooms and pretty people, pretty coffee, and cigarettes out of a silver tankard... I was wretched." Always outspoken, she was once turned out of an omnibus after calling another woman a whore; the woman had declared that all suffragettes ought to be trampled to death by horses. In 1911 she met John Middleton Murry, a Socialist and former literary critic, who was first a tenant in her flat, then her lover. Mansfield co-edited and contributed to a series of journals. Until 1914 she published stories in Rhythm and The Blue Review. During the war she travelled restlessly between England and France. When her brother "Chummie" died in World War I, Mansfield focused her writing on New Zealand and her family. 'Prelude' (1916), one of her most famous stories, was written during this period. After divorcing her first husband in 1918, Mansfield married Murry. In the same year she was found to have tuberculosis.

Mansfield and Murry were closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. Upon learning that Murry had an affair with the Princess Bibesco (née Asquith), Mansfield objected not to the affair but to her letters to Murry: "I am afraid you must stop writing these love letters to my husband while he and I live together. It is one of the things which is not done in our world." (from a letter to Princess Bibesco, 1921)

Mansfield did her best work in the early 1920s, the peak of her achievement being the Garden Party (1922), which she wrote during the final stages of her illness. At the suggestion of her friend Anne Estelle Rice, the American painter, she took a room in the Victoria-Palacewhen she arrived in Paris for radiation treatments from Dr. Ivan Manoukhin . Though the hotel was rather costly and she had separated from her husband, Mansfield managed to pay her bills. Her quarters were considerably better than the barn near Fontainebleau in which she died a year later. With the financial support of his patron Harriet Weaver, James Joyce and his family took rooms at the Victoria-Palace Hôtelduring 1923-24. Before moving to Georgei Gurdjieff commune, Mansfield resided at the Hôtel Select for three weeks in October 1922.

Her last years Mansfield spent in southern France and in Switzerland, seeking relief from tuberculosis. One of the persons with whom she spent time in the Alps was her elder cousin, Elizabeth von Arnim, best remembered for the commercially succesful novels Elizabeth and Her German Garden (1898) and The Enchanted April (1922). Elizabeth von Arnim had a three-year affair with H.G. Wells before WWI. Her second husband from 1916 was Earl Francis Russell, the elder brother of Bertrand Russell. Mansfield's final letter was addressed to von Arnim. "I would like to write one story really good enough to offer you one day," she said.

As a part of her treatment in 1922 at an institute, Mansfield had to lie a few hours every day on a platform suspended over a cow manger. She breathed odors emanating from below but the treatment did no good. Without the company of her literary friends, family, or her husband, she wrote much about her own roots and her childhood. Mansfield died of a pulmonary hemorrhage on January 9, 1923, in Gurdjieff Institute, near Fontainebleau, France. Her last words were: "I love the rain. I want the feeling of it on my face."

Mansfield's family memoirs were collected in Bliss (1920). Only three volumes of Mansfield's stories were published during her lifetime. 'Miss Brill' was about a woman who enjoys the beginning of the Season. She goes to her "special" seat with her fur. She had taken it out of its box in the afternoon, shaken off the moth-powder, and given it a brush. She feels that she has a part in the play in the park, and somebody will notice if she isn't there. A couple sits near her. The girl laughs at her fur and the man says: "Why does she come here at all – who wants her? Why doesn't she keep her silly old mug at home?" Miss Brill hurries back home, unclasps the neckpiece quickly, and puts it in the box. "But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying."

In 'The Garden Party' (1921) an extravagant garden-party is arranged on a beautiful day. Laura, the daughter of the party's hostess, hears of the accidental death of a young local working-class man, Mr. Scott. The man lived in the neighborhood. Laura wants to cancel the party, but her mother refuses to understand. She fills a basket with sandwiches, cakes, pastries and other food, goes to the widow's house, and sees the dead man in the bedroom where he is lying. "He was wonderful, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane." Crying she tells her brother who is looking for her: "'It was simply marvellous. But, Laurie – ' She stopped, she looked at her brother. 'Isn't life,' she stammered, 'isn't life – ' But what life was she couldn't explain. No matter. He quite understood."

Mansfield was greatly influenced by Anton Chekhov, sharing his warm humanity and attention to small details of human behavior. Her influence on the development of the modern short story was also notable. Among her literary friends were Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf, who considered her overpraised, and D.H. Lawrence, who later turned against Murry and her. Mansfield's journal, letters, and scrapbook were edited by her husband, who ignored her wish that he should "tear up and burn as much as possible" of the papers she left behind her.

For further reading: The Autobiography of John Middleton Murry by J.M. Murry (1936); Katherine Mansfield by S. Daly (1965); The Fiction of Katherine Mansfield by M. Magalanr (1971); Life of Katherine Mansfield by R.E. Mantz (1974); Katherine Mansfield: A Biography by Jeffrey Meyers (1978); The Life of Katherine Mansfield by A. Alpers (1980); Katherine Mansfield by C. Hanson and A. Gurr (1981); A Bibliography of Katherine Mansfield by B.J. Kirkpatrick (1990); Katherine Mansfield by Jane Phillimore (1990); Katherine Mansfield: A Study of Her Shorter Fiction by J.F. Kobler (1990); Critical Essays on Katherine Mansfield, ed. by L Rhoda B. Nathan (1993); Katherine Mansfield's Fiction by Patrick D. Morrow (1993); Illness, Gender, and Writing by Mary Burgan (1994); Katherine Mansfield by Saralyn R. Daly (1994); Radical Mansfield : Double Discourse in Katherine Mansfield's Short Stories by Pamela Dunbar (1997); The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield, ed. by Jan Pilditch (1995); Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf by Angela Smith (1999); Katherine Mansfield: A Literary Life by Angela Smith (2000); Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller by Kathleen Jones (2011); Katherine Mansfield: The Early Years by Gerri Kimber (2016); Katherine Mansfield's French Lives, edited By Claire Davison and Gerri Kimber (2017); Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf, edited by Christine Froula, Gerri Kimber and Todd Martin; editorial assistant Aimee Gasston (2018); Katherine Mansfield and Elizabeth von Arnim, edited by Gerri Kimber, Isobel Maddison and Todd Martin; editorial assistant Aimee Gasston (2019); Katherine Mansfield: New Directions, edited by Aimée Gasston, Gerri Kimber and Janet Wilson (2020); The Bloomsbury Handbook to Katherine Mansfield, edited by Todd Martin (2021) - John Middleton Murry (1889-1957), writer and critic, born in London. He studied at Oxford, and edited the Athenaeum (1919-21), Adelphi (1923-48), Peace News (1940-46). His major works include studies on Keats and Shakespeare (1925), D.H.Lawrence (1931), William Blake (1933), and Swift (1954). Towards the end of his life he became interested in agriculture, and he established a community farm in Norfolk.

Selected bibliography:

  • In a German Pension, 1911 (contains The child-who-was-tired, Germans at meat, The baron, The Luft Bad, At Lehmann's, Frau Brechenmacher attends a wedding, The sister of the baroness, Frau Fischer, A birthday, The moderns soul, The advanced lady, The swing of the pendulum, A blaze) - 'Saksalaiset aterialla,' 'Syntymäpäivä,' ym. novellivalikoimassa Kanarialintu (suom. Marianne Alopaeus, 2005)
  • Prelude, 1918 - 'Preludi', valikoimassa Preludi (suom. Kaija Lintumaa, 1953)
  • Je ne parle pas francais, 1919 (privately printed) - 'Je ne parle pas francais,' kokoelmassa Kanarialintu (suom. Marianne Alopaeus, 2005)
  • Bliss, and Other Stories, 1920 (contains The wind blows, The little governess, Mr Reginald Peacock's day, Feuille d'album, A dill pickle, Prelude, Bliss, Pictures, Je ne parle pas français, The man without a temperament, Revelations, The escape, Sun and moon, Psychology) - 'Je ne parle pas francais,' 'Luonteeton mies,' ym. novellivalikoimassa Kanarialintu (suom. Marianne Alopaeus, 2005)
  • Garden Party, and Other Stories, 1922 (contains the stories 'Bank Holiday, The young girl, Miss Brill, The lady's maid, The stranger, The life of Ma Parker, The daugters of the late Colonel, Mr and Mrs Dove, An ideal family, Her first ball, The voyage, Marriage à la mode, At the bay, The Garden-party, The singing lesson) - 'Puutarhakutsut,' niminovelli valikoimassa Puutarhakutsut: kertomuksia (suom. Sirppa Kauppinen et al., toim. Vappu Roos, 1963) / 'Tuntematon,' 'Matka,' ym. teoksessa Kanarialintu (suom. Marianne Alopaeus, 2005)
  • Poems, 1923
  • The Dove's Nest, and Other Stories, 1923 (contains The doll's house, Taking the veil, The fly, Honeymoon, A cup of tea, The canary; unfinished stories: A married man's story, The dove's nest, Six years after, Daphne, Father and the girls, All serene, A bad idea, A man and his dog, Such a sweet old lady, Honesty, Susannah, Second violin, Mr & Mrs Williams, Weak heart, Widowed) - 'Kanarialintu' ym. novellivalikoimassa Kanarialintu (suom. Marianne Alopaeus, 2005)
  • Something Childish, and Other Stories, 1924 (contains The journey to Bruges, A truthful adventure, The Woman and the store, How Pearl Button was kidnapped, The little girl, New dresses, Ole Underwood, Pension Séguin, Millie, Violet, Bains turcs, Two tuppenny ones please, Late at night, The black cap, Sixpence, Poison, A suburban fairy tale, Something childish but very natural, The tiredness of Rosabel, See-saw, Carnation, An indiscreet journey, Spring pictures, The flower, The wrong house) - 'Kaupan nainen' ym. novellivalikoimassa Kanarialintu (suom. Marianne Alopaeus, 2005)
  • The Journal of Katherine Mansfield, 1927 (ed. J.M. Murry)
  • (translator, with S.S. Koteliansky) Reminiscences of Leonid Andreyev by Maxim Gorky, 1928
  • The Letters of Katherine Mansfield, 1928-1929 (2 vols., ed. J.M. Murry)
  • The Aloe, 1930 (the original longer version of Prelude)
  • Stories by Katherine Mansfield, 1930
  • Novels and Novelists, 1930
  • A Fairy Story, 1932 (privately printed, 25 copies)
  • To Stanislaw Wyspianski, 1938 (privately printed, 100 copies)
  • The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield, 1939 (ed. J.M. Murry)
  • Collected Stories, 1945
  • Katherine Mansfield's Letters to J. Middleton Murry, 1951
  • Journal of Katherine Mansfield, Definitive Edition, 1954
  • The Critical Writings of Katherine Mansfield, 1987
  • The Collected Letters of Catherine Mansfield: 1918-1919, 1987
  • The Collected Letters of Catherine Mansfield: 1920-1921, 1996 (vol. 4)
  • The Garden Party: The Collected Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield (vol. 2), 2000
  • The Dove's Nest: The Collected Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield (vol. 3), 2000
  • The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks, 2002 (edited by Margaret Scott)
  • The Poetry and Critical Writings of Katherine Mansfield, 2014 (edited by Gerri Kimber and Angela Smith)
  • The Urewera Notebook, 2015 (edited by Anna Plumridge)
  • The Garden Party and Selected Short Stories, 2018
  • Strange Bliss: Essential Stories, 2021 (Prelude; How Pearl Button was kidnapped; Psychology; Bliss; The daughters of the late Colonel; At the bay

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