Further study of Katherine Mansfield…

If anyone wants to read more MansfieldNorton Critical Edition Cover – and delve a little more deeply into her life and work – I can recommend as a starting point, Katherine Mansfield’s Selected Stories, a Norton Critical Edition.  This contains 35 Mansfield Stories (several of which we haven’t read), 20 pages from her diaries, and a range of critical comments, from the 1920’s to the present.
Here’s copy of the


— Tom

Ngaio Marsh’s New Zealand mysteries

I’ve identified the four Ngaio Marsh mysteries that are set in New Zealand. They’re all fun reads, with good dollops of the New Zealand environment. Anyone interested in more information about the books and their New Zealand setting can download some longer comments in the PDF below.
Vintage Murder (1937): British theater group traveling in New Zealand. Detective Alleyn’s (‘y’ is silent) first visit. Much landscape, discussions with Maori elder.
Colour Scheme (1943): Complex plot at a hot-spring/mud-bath resort next to a Maori settlement. Lots of local color, though the plot may be a little strained.
Died in the Wool (1944): Mystery set on a remote, upland (and upper class) sheep farm. Much New Zealand atmosphere – from landscape to social stratifications. Well plotted: one of my personal favorites.
Photo-Finish (1980): Marsh’s penultimate novel. Alleyn and his wife visit New Zealand. Most of the novel is an exotically-placed English House Mystery (centered on an operatic Diva). But there’s still a strong New Zealand presence.


(Future audiobooks)

Update June 12:  I’ve been asked to recommend audiobooks for our next two readings.  I’ve revised and enlarged my original post on the FORUM (see menu at top of the page) about Willa Cather’s My Ántonia.  And I’ve also added a brief recommendation for Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.  –  Tom


Chekhov and Mansfield

Lurking a little way below our discussion of Mansfield is the influence of Chekhov on her writing. Lurking much closer to my surface is my annoyance at the V.S. Pritchett 1946 review of Mansfield’s Collected Stories which Tom gave us last week. In it, among other things, Pritchett seems to fault Mansfield for not having “the sense of a country” that somehow makes Chekhov a better writer. He wonders about the characters in At the Bay, “who are these people, who are their neighbors, what is the world they belong to?” Apparently, we never need to worry about these things in a Chekhov story. Pritchett mentions Chekhov’s The Steppe by name, but says that “Russia, the condition of Russia, is the silent character, always haunting us” in Chekhov’s work. I’m not convinced that we don’t get sense of New Zealand in At the Bay, and I’m certainly not convinced that any supposed missing sense of nationality in Mansfield is a drawback.

None of this, of course, has much to do with how to evaluate Chekhov’s influence on Mansfield. Pritchett briefly says that both writers were more interested in moments of truth than plot. To help us make our own measure, I’ve links here to a couple of Chekhov stories.

The Steppe is a long novella. I haven’t read it yet, but maybe we can put it on our to do list for the last meeting. You can find a nicely formatted version of it here: https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chekhov/anton/steppe/.

A shorter, more manageable, Chekhov story is Frost. If you read it you may find yourself wishing Russia a more silent character than it is here, but, in addition to being a fine story, I think it illustrates Pritchett’s points pretty well.

Take a look at it:

FROST (.pdf)

You can find Frost and other Chekhov stories on line at Project Gutenberg.

Addendum from Tom:  In addition to Seth’s excellent recommendations above, I’ve added a link below to a PDF of three very short stories (each runs a page or two) that suggest some of the ways that Mansfield was influenced by Chekhov but then went beyond his sense of realism to shape her own looser kind of reality.  … Fat and Thin is short and twisty.  Misery is placed solidly in a Russian landscape.  Oysters is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch for our purposes – among other things, its main character is a boy whose situation we only slowly begin to figure out.

“Fat and Thin,” “Misery,” and “Oysters” by Anton Chekhov


Rich and rare were the gems she wore

In Six Years After, the husband, known only as Father, quotes the first line of a lyric by the Irish poet, Thomas Moore, (maybe best known for burning Byron’s memoirs). I’m not sure why Father quotes the poem here, only that Mother thinks he’s childish. Whatever the case, here’s the whole of it:

Rich and rare were the gems she wore,
And a bright gold ring on her wand she bore;
But oh! her beauty was far beyond
Her sparkling gems, or snow-white wand.

“Lady! dost thou not fear to stray,
So lone and lovely through this bleak way?
Are Erin’s sons so good or so cold,
As not to be tempted by woman or gold?”

“Sir Knight! I feel not the least alarm,
No son of Erin will offer me harm: —
For though they love woman and golden store,
Sir Knight! they love honour and virtue more!”

On she went, and her maiden smile
In safety lighted her round the green isle;
And blest for ever is she who relied
Upon Erin’s honour and Erin’s pride.

Father and Mother were probably thinking of the song, music by Moore’s contemporary John Andrew Stevenson. Here are two versions from YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BpVVU3O7DI or



Garden Parties, etc. in Edwardian New Zealand


There are several sources for historic photographs of New Zealand.  I list a few below.  Thanks to our own Katherine M. for finding the web site about KM’s plants.  If anyone else discovers good Mansfield material on the web, please send me the address for inclusion here. — Tom

Christchurch City Library Heritage Photos
New Zealand Edwardian Photo Album
Plants of Katherine Mansfield’s world

Final word on the name Kezia

I regret to report that Kezia is neither a Maori name nor a name originating in New Zealand.  It appears in the Bible — in the form Keziah.  If you look for the meaning of the name, you wind up on an Israeli web page where its Hebrew meaning is given as “cinnamon-like bark” or “a daughter of Job.”

Kezia was used in England – where, indeed, it was Kezia Baynes (1834-1902)pronounced to rhyme with the British version of “Maria” (i.e. MaR-EYE-ah).  It was brought to New Zealand by settlers – including a certain Kezia Godfrey.  Born in London in 1834 Kezia emigrated to South Africa in 1859, after marrying (in a Baptist Church) one Samuel Crawford, shoemaker. Samuel died a year after arriving at the Cape. Kezia traveled to New Zealand in 1864 with her second husband, George Tippett (also a shoemaker).

Almost immediately George drowned when canoeing to get stores for their new homestead. Kezia married for the last time in 1865 – to Robert Baynes (who had hired the widow as his housekeeper). In 1871, Kezia gave birth to a girl, named Kezia. The baby died within her first year. (Several Baynes children did live and carried on the line.) Robert died in 1895, Kezia Baynes in 1902.  They are buried next to two dead infants (including, presumably, Baby Kezia) in Waiuku Cemetary. Their farm was in Waipipi.

… So there’s more than one “Kezia story” to be told among the Kiwis.

(As well as elsewhere:  a search of “Kezia Massachusetts” brings up many names – including a psychologist in Springfield.  And the first wife of Barack Obama Sr. was named Kezia.)



V.S. Pritchett on Mansfield and Chekhov

Who Are These People?

This is the heading given in the Norton Critical Edition to a short excerpt from an essay by V.S. Pritchett (written in 1946) in which he discusses Mansfield and Chekhov, among other things.  I find the piece filled with helpful insight. Pritchett refers to several stories we are reading, especially “At the Bay.”  As the excerpt runs only a page and a half, it’s a quick read.  Added note, 5/27:  I’ve improved the quality of the PDF to make it easier to read.

VS Pritchett on Mansfield (OCR)

— Tom

À propos of not much


Of all the plants in Prelude, two and three dimensional, real and imaginary, the aloe may play one of the more significant roles. I thought it might be nice to have a picture of one near by.


I assume this is an aloe that’s getting its once-every-hundred-year bloom, though I have a feeling Linda Burnell might be making that up.

Later, if we talk about Bliss, and I hope we can fit it in, it might also be nice to have a picture of a pear tree in mind, too:


pear tree

Katherine Mansfield: fragments of an introduction

A certain melancholy has been brooding over me this fortnight. I date it from Katherine’s death. The feeling comes to me so often now – Yes. Go on writing of course: but into emptiness. There’s no competitor.      — Virginia Woolf (1923)

Some weeks ago, before we had decided to read Mansfield, I wrote an introduction for the Forum about who Katherine was and why her stories are so well-regarded.  I re-post it below.     — Tom

From the “Katherine Mansfield Home” web site

Katherine Mansfield, 1888-1923

Katherine Mansfield is New Zealand’s most internationally famous author. She was a writer of short stories, poetry, letters, journals and reviews, and changed the way the short story was written in the English language. She was a rebel and a modernist who lived her short life of 34 years to the full. Her life spanned a time when gender roles for women underwent a radical change. . . .

From the Encyclopedia Britannica

Katherine Mansfield (born October 14, 1888, Wellington, New Zealand—died January 9, 1923, Gurdjieff Institute, near Fontainebleau, France), New Zealand-born English master of the short story, who evolved a distinctive prose style with many overtones of poetry. Her delicate stories, focused upon psychological conflicts, have an obliqueness of narration and a subtlety of observation that reveal the influence of Anton Chekhov. She, in turn, had much influence on the development of the short story as a form of literature.

Excerpts from two essays in The New York Review of Books

(links to the full articles below)

Gabrielle Annan reviews a biography by Claire Tomalin (1988)
Katherine Mansfield’s contemporaries, including, though reluctantly, Virginia Woolf, agreed that she was brilliant. Woolf admired her besides for going “every sort of hog,” while she herself remained regretfully respectable. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Mansfield is that she managed to construct for herself, a century or at least half a century too late, a classically Romantic career. Born in 1888 into a prosperous New Zealand family and educated for three years at Queen’s College, Harley Street, an enlightened London girls’ school, she rejected her background, comforts and all, to starve in a succession of European attics and unheatable cottages, to combine a hectic love life with dedication to her work, to make it into the literary and artistic avant-garde of her day, and to die, at thirty-four, of a mixture of tuberculosis and gonorrhea. Even Baudelaire could do no more. …… Tomalin [the writer of the reviewed book] analyzes a number of Mansfield’s works as she goes along. In the end her assessment boils down to admiring Mansfield’s gift for conveying mood and atmosphere in a manner she calls Post-Impressionist, presumably because of the fragmentation, but which could also be labeled Impressionist for its characteristically vivid way with light, texture, and movement. “The lack of stamina,” says Tomalin, “which prevented her from producing a novel encouraged other virtues: speed, economy, clarity. They became her hallmark, admired and imitated by later writers.”

Claire Tomalin reviews a biography by Antony Alpers (1980)

Nearly sixty years after her death, the name Katherine Mansfield still projects a sharp, strong presence. Not that Mansfield was her true name; it was one of several she made up. Her image too can be turned about; it changes, now vulnerable and wounded, now imperious and exacting, now the wild, ambitious colonial girl, now the simple seeker after purity and truth in art and life.

It was said, by Leonard Woolf and others, that her face was like a mask. She was described as both pale and dark: first too fat and then too thin; elegant and not quite elegant. If she had genius, she lacked stamina, the sticking and staying power genius needs if it is to do more than flash erratically. Yet this was not for want of struggle—to make something new and perfect, to overcome disease, to keep her balance as a person and a writer in an awkward age and within a group of other gifted and difficult people.

She was disliked, both as a person and as a writer; she was also revered as both. Not many took a position between these two attitudes, although some alternated, bewildered and fascinated. …

It would be absurd to try to disconnect the life and the work. She herself was heartily dissatisfied with her own achievement at the end, and even her warmest admirers have to make what they can of the small quantity of first-rate Mansfield. She died at thirty-four and illness was destroying her steadily throughout most of her adult life, first undiagnosed and untreated gonorrhea and then tuberculosis. Poverty, or the fear of poverty, and an inability to settle in one place or let anyone settle her played their parts. Mr. Alpers points to her sense of insecurity—the cultural insecurity, he suggests, of the uprooted colonial—which he makes responsible for much of the “peculiar intimacy” of her tone. …

… In her fiction too it is the rigidity, the consistency of each character’s isolation that gives the particular quality and stamp of Mansfield. In the early stories, such as “A Birthday,” “Germans at Meat,” “The Swing of the Pendulum,” “A Truthful Adventure,” and “An Indiscreet Journey,” the cold, sharp eye of the separate and defensive young woman observes her fellow men and women and finds them wanting. Beneath family complacency she divines cruelty and terror. Later Mansfield gave her characters a more inward sense of isolation; they see and enjoy and suffer the world but are pierced with the knowledge that, although they watch one another and exchange words, they do not share real joy or real desolation, which are experienced alone. This is the burden of her finest work: “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” “The Man Without a Temperament,” “Her First Ball,” “The Garden Party,” and of course “The Aloe,” rewritten as “Prelude,” and its sequel “At the Bay.”

PDFs of the complete essays from The New York Review of Books:
NYRB 1980, Tomalin on Alpers’ Biography of Mansfield

NYRB 1988, Annan on Tomalin’s Biography of Mansfield

I suggest that you read first Claire Tomalin’s 1980 review of a Mansfield biography written by Anthony Alpers. Tomalin is a bit more sympathetic to Mansfield’s life and work than is Gabrielle Annan, who, in 1988, wrote a review of Tomalin’s new biography of the writer. Annan treats Mansfield’s art (and her life) with more asperity than Tomalin. The reviews make a good pairing as, taken together, they illustrate the range of responses that Katherine Mansfield continues to inspire.