Katherine Mansfield (October 14, 1888 – January 9, 1923) was a prominent modernist writer of short fiction. She was born into a middle class family in Wellington, New Zealand. Throughout her childhood, she took an extreme interest in music and literature, and would eventually go on to write a number of short stories and novels. She is said to be New Zealand's most famous writer, who was closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and something of a rival of Virginia Woolf. Mansfield's creative years were burdened with loneliness, illness, jealousy, alienation—all 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. Without the company of her literary friends, family, or her husband, she wrote much about her own roots and her childhood, reflecting the breakdown of the family in modern culture. Mansfield died of a pulmonary hemorrhage on January 9, 1923, in Gurdjieff Institute, near Fontainebleau, France.
Mansfield was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp into a socially prominent family in Wellington, New Zealand. The daughter of a banker, Harold Beauchamp, and a genteel mother, Annie Burnell Syer, theirs was a middle-class colonial family. Mansfield had a lonely and alienated childhood. 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, her first published stories appeared in the High School Reporter and the Wellington Girls' High School magazine, in 1898 and 1899. She moved to London in 1902, where she attended Queen's College, London. At this point, she joined the staff of the College Magazine, which is said to be her first step towards rebellion against her personal background. However, as she was a talented cellist, she was not at first attracted to literature as a career, and after finishing her schooling in England, she returned to her New Zealand home in 1906.
It was upon her return to New Zealand that Kathleen Beauchamp began writing short stories more consistently. She then took up music, and had affairs with both men and women, quickly falling into a bohemian lifestyle, where she lived with many contemporary writers of her day. Both an accomplished violoncellist and cello player, her father denied her the opportunity to become a professional cello player. Weary of the provincial New Zealand lifestyle, Beauchamp returned to London two years later in 1908, where 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, where she completely 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 opera extra. 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 in 1909, possibly brought on by lifting her trunk off the top of a wardrobe. During her stay in Germany she wrote satirical sketches of German characters, which influenced her work elsewhere as well.
Back in England, her work drew the attention of several publishing houses, and Beauchamp took on the pen-name Katherine Mansfield upon the publication of her first collection of short stories, In a German Pension, in 1911. Earlier her stories had appeared in The New Age. On her return to London in 1910, Mansfield became ill when she contracted gonorrhea, an untreated sexually transmitted disease around this time, an event that was to plague her with arthritic pain for the rest of her short life, as well as to make her view herself as a 'soiled' woman. She attended literary parties without much enthusiasm, asserting, "Pretty rooms and pretty people, pretty coffee, and cigarettes out of a silver tankard... I was wretched."
In 1911, Mansfield met John Middleton Murry, a Socialist and former literary critic, who was first a tenant in her flat, then her lover. Of her relationship with Murray she is often quoted as saying, "The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books." Mansfield co-edited and contributed to a series of journals. Mansfield and Murray became closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda. When Murry had an affair with the Princess Bibesco (née Asquith), Mansfield objected not to the affair but to her letters to Murry, stating "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)
Her life and work were changed forever with the death of her brother, a soldier, during 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 in New Zealand. During these years, she also formed an important professional friendship with Virginia Woolf, who later claimed that her writing was "the only writing I have ever been jealous of".
Although Mansfield continued writing between her first and second collections ("Prelude," 1918), she rarely published her work, and sank into depression. Her health declined further after a near-fatal attack of pleurisy, after learning that she had contracted tuberculosis in 1917. It was while combating the disease in health spas across Europe, and suffering a serious hemorrhage in 1918, that Mansfield began writing the works for which she would become best known.
Mansfield spent her last years seeking increasingly unorthodox cures for her tuberculosis. In February 1922, she consulted the Russian physician Ivan Manoukhin. His "revolutionary" treatment, which consisted of bombarding her spleen with x-rays, which caused Mansfield to develop heat flashes and numbness in her legs.
In October 1922, Mansfield moved to George Gurdjieff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleau, France, where she was under the care of Olgivanna Lazovitch Hinzenburg (later, Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright). While at Fontainebleau, Mansfield continued to write despite her failing health. After publishing an additional two volumes, one of poetry, and the other short stories, Mansfield suffered a fatal pulmonary hemorrhage in January 1923. She was buried in a cemetery in the Fontainebleau District in the town of Avon, Seine-et-Marne. Her last words are recorded to be: "I love the rain. I want the feeling of it on my face." There have been several monuments and museums erected in her honor.
Over the course of her life, Mansfield published numerous works, including short stories, poems, and novels. Her close friend, John Middleton Murry, played an extremely influential role not only editing her work, but in creating ideas for it as well. Until 1914, she published stories in Rhythm and The Blue Review. During the war she traveled restlessly between England and France, where she wrote Prelude in 1916, one of her most famous stories. This story was written after her brother, "Chummie," died in World War I. While she had only met him in 1915, Mansfield tried to focus her writing on New Zealand and her family in his honor.
Discouraged by the lack of success of her previous works, Mansfield submitted a lightweight story to a new avant-garde magazine called Rhythm. The story was rejected by editor John Middleton Murry, who requested something darker. Mansfield responded with The Woman at the Store, a tale of murder and mental illness that Murry called "the best story by far that had been sent to Rhythm."
Mansfield continued to write family memoirs, which were published in a collection called Bliss (1920), which secured her reputation as a writer. In the next two years she did her best work, the peak of her achievement being The Garden Party (1922), which she wrote during the final stages of her illness. Only three volumes of Mansfield's stories were published during her lifetime.
His efforts resulted in two additional volumes of short stories in 1923 (The Dove's Nest) and in 1924 (Something Childish), as well as her Poems, The Aloe, a collection of critical writings (Novels and Novelists) and a number of editions of Mansfield's previously unpublished letters and journals.
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, 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 marvelous. 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."
This excerpt opens the short story, The Garden Party, for which Mansfield is best known. Throughout the story, the theme of class-consciousness is raised, as different characters feel a sense of companionship with other characters of lower class, upsetting their parents, who are concerned about the potential embarrassing effects. In the opening paragraph, Mansfield begins to develop her theme, as she depicts the variance of situation between the gardener, mending to the roses, and the Meg, who is being served.
Katherine Mansfield is widely considered one of the best short story writers of her period. A number of her works, including Miss Brill, Prelude, The Garden Party, The Doll's House, and later works such as The Fly, are frequently collected in short story anthologies.
Although her personal life was filled with illness and depression, Mansfield proved herself to be one of her time period's most creative writers, as she was even compared to the likes of Virginia Woolf. The bitter depiction of marital and family relationships of her middle-class characters in her short stories was said to be ahead of her time. Like the Russian writer Anton Chekhov, Mansfield depicted trivial events and subtle changes in human behavior. Her short stories are also notable for their use of stream of consciousness.
Mansfield proved to be a prolific writer in the final years of her life, and much of her prose and poetry remained unpublished at her death. Her friend and lover, Murry took on the task of editing and publishing her works after her death, to continue her legacy. The fact that she died at a young age only added to her appeal, making her New Zealand`s most famous writer.
There are various schools and monuments erected after her death to honor her writing, including, Mount Roskill Grammar School in Auckland, Rangiora High School in North Canterbury, Macleans College in Auckland, and Wellington Girls' College in Wellington have a house, which are all named after her.
All links retrieved September 15, 2014.
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