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Katherine Mansfield (14 October 1888 – 9 January 1923) was a prominent modernist writer of short fiction.

Mansfield was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp into a socially prominent family in Wellington, New Zealand, where 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. A talented cellist, she was not at first attracted to literature, and after finishing her schooling in England, she returned to her New Zealand home in 1906. Weary of the provincial New Zealand lifestyle, Beauchamp returned to London two years later in 1908.

Serious writing

"The pleasure of reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books." — Katherine Mansfield

The daughter of a banker and born to a middle-class colonial family, Mansfield had a lonely and alienated childhood. She returned to New Zealand in 1906 and stayed until 1908. It was upon her return to New Zealand that Kathleen Beauchamp began writing short stories. On her return to London in 1908, she quickly fell into the bohemian/bisexual way of life lived by many artists and writers of that era.[1] With little money, she met, married and left her first husband, George Bowden, all within just three weeks. Around this time, she became pregnant by a family friend from New Zealand (Garnet Trowell, a professional violinist) and her mother sent her to Bavaria. [2]

Katherine suffered a miscarriage in 1909, possibly brought on by lifting her trunk off the top of a wardrobe. 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. She also contracted gonorrhoea 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.

Discouraged by the volume's lack of success, 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 moved in with Murry soon after its publication.

Her life and work were changed forever with the death of her brother, a soldier, during World War I. She was shocked and traumatised by the experience, so much so that her work began to take refuge in the nostalgic reminiscences of their childhood in New Zealand. [3] During these years, she also formed important professional friendships with writers such asD.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf who later claimed that her writing was 'The only writing I have ever been jealous of'.

Although she 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 when she contracted tuberculosis in 1917. It was while combating the disease in health spas across Europe, suffering a serious hemorrhage in 1918, that Mansfield began writing the works she would become best known for.

"Miss Brill," the bittersweet story of a fragile woman living an ephemeral life of observation and simple pleasures in Paris, established Mansfield as one of the preeminent writers of the Modernist period, upon its publication in 1920's Bliss. The title story from that collection, "Bliss," which involved a similar character facing her husband's infidelity, also found critical acclaim. She followed with the equally praised collection, The Garden Party, published in 1922.

Final years

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, caused Mansfield to develop heat 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.

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. Murry took on the task of editing and publishing her works.

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.


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. Mansfield also proved ahead of her time in her adoration of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, and incorporated some of his themes and techniques into her writing. The fact that Mansfield died relatively young only added to her legacy.

Rangiora High School in North Canterbury, Macleans College in Auckland, and Wellington Girls' College in Wellington have a house named after her.

Selected bibliography

See also

  • New Zealand literature
  • Elizabeth von Arnim, cousin and novelist
  • John Middleton Murry, husband and editor

External links

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