‘I am a writer first’*: Sally Minogue looks at the work and the life of Katherine Mansfield. ...
"Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy, you can't build on it it's only good for wallowing in. "
Katherine Mansfield (the pseudonym of Kathleen Murry, born, Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp) was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1888. Her father, Harold Beauchamp, was a banker. In 1903 she was sent to London to complete her education at Queen’s College, returning to New Zealand in 1906. She studied music, but her father denied her the opportunity to become a professional cello player and in 1909, with an allowance of £100 per annum, she returned to England to pursue a literary career. She never visited New Zealand again.
She became romantically involved with both men and women, and after an affair with musician, Garnett Trowell, by whom she became pregnant, she hastily entered into a relationship with George Bowden, a singing teacher, eleven years her senior. They were married on 2 March 1909, but she left him the same evening, before the marriage could be consummated. She suffered a miscarriage whilst in Bavaria, and on her return to London in 1910 she became ill with an untreated sexually transmitted disease, which contributed to her ill health for the rest of her life. In 1911 she met John Middleton Murry, a former literary critic and co-founder of Rhythm, an avant-garde quarterly magazine. He was initially her tenant, then her lover. Until 1914 she published stories in Murry’s magazine.
Mansfield's life and work were changed forever by the death in 1915 of her beloved brother, Leslie (Chummy) Heron Beauchamp, as a New Zealand soldier in France in World War I. She was shocked and traumatized by the experience, so much so that her work began to take refuge in the nostalgic reminiscences of their childhood together in New Zealand. In December 1917, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In 1918, Mansfield divorced Bowden, her first husband, and married Murry, but separated from him two weeks later. Although they came together again in March 1919, their relationship became increasingly distant after 1918.
Mansfield and Murry became closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, until falling out with them in 1916. Mansfield began to broaden her literary acquaintances for the remainder of that year, meeting Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell through social gatherings and introductions from others.
In the last years of her life, Mansfield spent much of her time in southern France and Switzerland seeking to alleviate her illness.Without the company of her friends, family and husband, from whom was now separated, she wrote mostly about her New Zealand roots and childhood. She died of a pulmonary haemorrhage in Fontainebleau on 9 January 1923.
Although her reputation was secured in 1920 with the publication of her family memoirs, Bliss, her best work was achieved with The Garden Party (1922), written in the final stages of her illness. She is credited with being a major influence on the development of the short story. Her style, with its 'stream of consciousness', was said to have been an influence on the work of Virginia Woolf. The full worth of her written works, and the influence of her innovative written style, were not fully appreciated until some decades after her death. Only three volumes of her stories were published during her lifetime, but Wordsworth Editions now publish some of her work in, The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield.
TITLES BY KATHERINE MANSFIELD