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Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)

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Katherine Mansfield (1888-l923)

Pseudonym of Kathleen Murry, original name Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp

New Zealand's most famous writer, she was closely associated with D.H. Lawrence and something of a rival of Virginia Woolf. Mansfield's creative years were burdened with loneliness, illness, jealousy, alienation - all this reflected also from her works in the bitter depiction of marital and family relationships.

Katherine Mansfield was born in Wellington, New Zealand into a middle-class colonial family. Her father was a banker and mother a genteel. As a first step to her rebellion against her origins, she withdrew to London in 1903 and studied at the Queen's College, where she joined the staff of the College Magazine. Then she took up music in New Zeeland in 1906 - she was accomplished violoncellist - but moved back to England in 1908, and devoted herself into writing. Mansfield never visited New Zealand again.

After an unhappy marriage with George Brown, whom she left after weddings, Mansfield spent some time in Bavaria, where she suffered from miscarriage. During her stay in German she wrote stories, which were published in 1911 under the title In a German Pension. On her return to London in 1910 Mansfield became ill with an untreated sexually transmitted disease, a condition which contributed to her weak health for the rest of her life.

In 1911 Mansfield met John Middleton Murry, a Socialist and former literature critic, and become co-editor and contributor to a series of journals. Until 1914 she published stories in Rhythm and The Blue Review. In 1918 she had divorce from her first husband and married John Murry. In the same year she was found to have tuberculosis. When her only brother died in the World War I Mansfield focused her writing on New Zealand, re-creating in her fiction members of her family, grandmother, her parents, her brother 'Chummie.'

Mansfield lived much of her time in southern France and in Switzerland in her last years, seeking relief from tuberculosis. Dauring these years without the company and friends, family, or even of her husband, she wote much about her own roots and her childhood. Mansfield died on January 9, 1923, in Gurdjieff Institute, near Fontainebleau, France.

Her family memoirs were collected in Bliss (1920), which secured her reputation as a writer. In the next two years she did her best work, achieving the height in the Garden Party (1922). Mansfield's famous short stories include 'Bliss' (1918), dealing with the subject of infidelity, 'The Man Without a Temperament' (1920), in which a husband becomes painfully aware that his relationship to his wife has deteriorated to 'rot', and 'The Garden Party' (1921), in which an extravagant garden-party coincides with the accidental death of a local working-class man, and the daughter of the party's hostess is touched by a newborn social conscience.

Mansfield was greatly influenced by Anton Chechov, sharing his warm humanity, sensitive characterization and subtle choice of detail. Her influence on the development of the short story as a form of literature was also notable. Among her literary friends were Aldous Huxley, Virginia Woolf, and D.H. Lawrence. Mansfield's journal, letters, and scrapbook were edited by her husband.


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