On this day…9 January

On 9 January 1923 Katherine Mansfield died in Fontainebleu, France.

Born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp on 14 October 1888 in Thornden, New Zealand, Katherine Mansfield became one of the greatest modernist short story writers. By the time of her death in 1923 at just 34 years of age, she had already published three collections of stories and her works have never been out of print since.

In 1903 Mansfield was sent to London to finish her education. She returned to New Zealand in 1906 but left for London again in 1908. She travelled in Germany and France and used her experiences for her first collection of stories, In a German Pension, published in 1911. That year she met John Middleton Murry and they became lovers. They married in May 1918 by which time she was already suffering from tuberculosis. In October 1922 she went to Gurdjieff’s Institute at Fontainebleu where she died on 9 January 1923.

Mansfield first encountered Ulysses on a visit to Leonard and Virginia Woolf in 1918, after Harriet Weaver had approached the Woolfs about the possibility of the Hogarth Press publishing the book. According to Virginia Woolf, Mansfield at first ridiculed what she read, but then declared: “But there’s something in this: a scene that should figure I suppose in the history of literature.”

In January 1922, writing to Sydney Schiff, Mansfield declared that there was a great deal in Joyce that she couldn’t get over: “I can’t get over the feeling of wet linoleum and unemptied pails and far worse horrors in the house of his mind… There is a tremendously strong impulse in me to beg him not to shock me!”

Joyce visited the Murrys in Paris at the end of March 1922. Mansfield, in a letter to Violet Schiff in April, said she felt at a loss as the conversation between Joyce and Murry sailed off into details of the correspondences between Ulysses and the Odyssey. “It’s absolutely impossible,” she wrote, “that other people should understand Ulysses as Joyce understands it.” However, according to Violet Schiff, Joyce thought Mansfield understood the book better than Murry did.

In her Introduction to the Oxford World’s Classics Selected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, Angela Smith points up aspects of Mansfield’s life and work that bear comparison with Joyce. Smith sees the question ‘Who am I?’ as being central not just to Mansfield’s characters but also to Eliot’s Prufrock, Lawrence’s Birkin, and Joyce’s Dedalus. Smith claims that “The idea of the outcast and exile as part of the self” was already familiar to Mansfield from her experiences in colonial New Zealand, and that “Mansfield’s experience of colonial life prepared her for the disrupted forms and fractured expressions of the writers and artists who became known as Modernists…”

 

Sources:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Mansfield, Katherine: Selected Stories, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Angela Smith, Oxford World’s Classics series, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

 

Katherine Mansfield Birthplace

Katherine Mansfield Society

 

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