This week, Helena’s postcard turns our attention to a still somewhat under-read writer who was one of the parents of modernism in English literature. Here’s Helena Whitbread:
My reading pleasure this summer has been, and still is, a quite in-depth exploration of the life and works of Katherine Mansfield. Initially, I bought The Complete Stories (published by Penguin Classics). The Introduction by Ali Smith, a noted novelist and short story writer herself, alone made me want to know much more about Katherine’s life. Claire Tomalin’s biography of her, entitled A Secret Life, was my starting point, which then led me on to the five volumes of Mansfield’s Collected Letters (I have just started Volume V). Another biography, Katherine Mansfield. A Darker View by Jeffrey Meyers, is holding me enthralled and I have just received the 1985 Virago publication of Ida Baker’s memoir, Katherine Mansfield. The Memories of LM.
So – as a writer myself, albeit not of fiction, have I learned anything from this brilliant woman? I think the greatest impression her work made on me must be the meticulous attention she pays to the careful building up of layer upon layer of seemingly small, insignificant details until the whole picture emerges in a glow of luminosity thereby creating unforgettable scenes which are her gift to us, her readers.
In my own work on the life of Anne Lister, I have sometimes hesitated over the thousands of myriad details contained in Anne’s journals – for instance, is it important to say that at Shibden Hall they used a “metal teapot”, of which Anne obviously felt ashamed when her friends came to tea? Does it matter that she combed such classical works as the Iliad to find names for her horses? Or that she lined a deal box with blue paper in which to keep her letters? Well, as Anne’s biographer, what I have brought away from Katherine Mansfield’s letters and fiction is a ringing endorsement of the fact that small things do matter!
If you’ve never read Mansfield, a good way to dip your toes is THIS free U of Adelaide e-book site that archives many of her short stories. My gossipy side also wants to know whether it is true that Mansfield had relationships with women. Any information about that, our resident historian?