Katherine Mansfield

Place of BirthWellington
New Zealand

"Start very early. Titiokura - the rough roads and glorious mountains and bush.
The top of Turangakumu. Next day, walking and the bush, clematis and orchids.
At last come the Waipunga Falls, the fierce wind, the flax..."

Katherine Mansfield was born in Wellington as the daughter of a successful businessman. Her family was wealthy enough to afford to send her to Queen's College, London for her education. She then returned to New Zealand for two years, before going back to London to pursue a literary career.

She quickly fell into the bohemian way of life lived by many artists of that era. With little money, she met, married and left her first husband, George Bowden, all within just three weeks. She then found herself pregnant (not by her husband) and was forced to stay in a Bavarian hotel by her concerned mother. She miscarried the child, but the whole sequence of events and experiences gave her the impetus to publish her first collection of Short stories The German Pension (1911). In that same year she met the critic and essayist John Middleton Murray. Their tempestuous relationship together brought Katherine Mansfield into contact with many of leading lights of English literature of that era. Most notably, she came to the attention of D. H. Lawrence. This attention is most obvious in his depiction of Mansfield and Murry as Gudrun and Gerald in Woman in Love (1917).

Katherine Mansfield with her nephew in 1907
Her life and work were changed forever with the death of her brother during The Great War. She was shocked and traumatised by the experience, so much so that her work began to take refuge in the nostalgic reminscences of their childhood in New Zealand. For the imperial historian, it is this body of work that is the most interesting: Prelude (1917), Bliss, and Other Stories (1920) and The Garden party and Other Stories. (1922) She could evoke stunning mental images of the natural beauty of New Zealand as well as showing a keen ear for the oddities of Upper Class English and Colonial society.

The last years of her life were punctuated with bouts of the tuberculosis that would eventually kill her in 1923. This sense of impending and unnaturally early death also added to the sharpness and poignancy of her later works. Her husband, John Middleton Murry, would later publish many of her works, letters and papers postumously. However, he guarded her image jealously and is thought to have censored much of this body of work.

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by Stephen Luscombe