Famous Authors Series – Katherine Mansfield

photo of katherine mansfield for Famous Authors Series - Katherine Mansfield

This is the beginning of a series of posts about the lives of famous authors. Just how ‘regular’ these turn out to be will depend on other content I have to post, but let’s kick off today with the Famous Authors Series – Katherine Mansfield.

Katherine Mansfield was a New Zealand author who lived only to the age of thirty-four, yet she produced an oeuvre of some twenty collections of short stories and poems, and sixty-five short stories.

Mansfield was small, slim and attractive. She had short, dark hair and mostly wore her fringe cut straight across. Her eyes were brown.

‘The only writing I have ever been jealous of’

Virginia Woolf, contemporary, friend and fellow member of the Bloomsbury Group

Early life

Katherine was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp in 1888, in Wellington. She always wrote under the pseudonym Katherine Mansfield.

In 1903, Mansfield’s father sent his daughter to finish her education in London at Queen’s College, a liberal girls’ school. Mansfield studied music, English, French and German. She edited the school magazine, contributed short stories and read widely.

She returned to New Zealand in 1906 and began publishing short stories, but she was restless, found the lifestyle too provincial and longed for the London world of art and literature. In 1908, she departed for London, never to return to the antipodes. In her later years, she expressed both disdain and admiration for New Zealand.

Personal life of Katherine Mansfield

Mansfield had two romantic relationships with women, the first with Maata Mahupuku (also known as Martha Grace), a wealthy young Māori woman whom she first met at school in Wellington and then again in London in 1906. Her second same-sex relationship was with Edith Bendall, between 1906 and 1908. She also had several lovers, both male and female.

Mansfield’s life was a whirlwind. In Europe, she met a musician in Paris and joined a touring opera company to be with him. Becoming pregnant, she married a singing teacher, George Bowden, in 1908, but left him after the ceremony. Her mother sailed from New Zealand in 1909 to see what her wayward daughter was up to. She whisked her off to a Bavarian spa and away from her friend Ida Baker, with whom she thought her daughter had a lesbian relationship. Mrs Beauchamp disinherited her daughter. Happily for Katherine, her father continued to pay her an allowance. Being in Bavaria had a significant effect on her in a literary sense, especially the works of Anton Chekhov.

Productive writer

Mansfield began her first collection of short stories in Germany, In a German Pension.

After experiencing a miscarriage in Bavaria, taking a Polish lover and running out of funds, she returned to London in January 1910 with financial help from her friend Ida. There, she published more than a dozen articles in Alfred Orage’s socialist magazine The New Age, becoming a friend and lover of Beatrice Hastings, who lived with Orage.

John Middleton Murry

Around this time, Mansfield met the man who would eventually (in 1918) become her second husband, the writer and critic John Middleton Murry. They soon became lovers and collaborators. Theirs was a stormy relationship, and they often lived apart.

Mansfield and Murry became friends with D.H. Lawrence in 1913. Along with his future wife, Frieda, the two couples became close friends.

Alienation

​Mansfield wrote of her feelings of alienation in New Zealand, and of her disillusionment with the repression of the Māori people. Māori characters are often portrayed sympathetically in her later stories, such as How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped. However, her work took a nostalgic turn towards New Zealand childhood memories after the death of her younger brother, Leslie, at the end of 1915, killed during grenade training in Belgium at the age of twenty-one.

She wrote a poem about a dream she had soon after her brother’s death:

By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands...
‘These are my body. Sister, take and eat.’ (acknowledgement per Wikipedia)

Illness and final years

When she was twenty-nine, Mansfield was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis.

Accompanied by Ida, she travelled to Switzerland in May 1921 to investigate tuberculosis treatment. Murry joined her a month later and they stayed until January 1922. Mansfield was highly productive during this time, fearing she did not have much time left. In Switzerland, she wrote At the Bay, The Doll’s House, The Garden Party and A Cup of Tea.

She spent her final years seeking unorthodox cures for her tuberculosis. Between June and August 1922, she and Murry returned to Switzerland, where she finished her last short story, The Canary. She wrote her will. After a short trip to London, she moved with Ida to Fontainebleau, France in October 1922.

In January of the following year, she suffered a fatal pulmonary haemorrhage, after running up a flight of stairs, dying within the hour. She was buried near Fontainebleau.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post ‘Famous Authors Series – Katherine Mansfield’.

Complete works

Search on Google for the complete works of Katherine Mansfield. There are various collections in ebook form at ridiculously low prices! – e.g. here. There are also hard copy editions available for Mansfield connoisseurs, e.g. here.

Acknowledgements

Sonin, Adam, Heritage: Katherine Mansfield – The turbulent love life of a ‘very serious writer’. In ‘Ham & High’, 27 April 2013 https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/heritage/heritage-katherine-mansfield-the-turbulent-love-live-of-a-very-serious-writer-1-2167030 Accessed 31 October 2020

Wikipedia, Katherine Mansfield, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Mansfield#Works Accessed 31 October 2020

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