Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield spent much of her final days suspended above a cow manger, part of an Armenian mystic's cure for the tuberculosis that had ravaged her for over five years. This unusual episode was a cruel twist in a life that had already endured a miscarriage, gonorrhoea, two unfaithful husbands and the untimely death of a much-loved brother.
Born in 1888 into a middle-class family in Wellington, New Zealand, Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp quickly cast off her colonial beginnings. Initially sent to England to study the cello, by the age of 25 she had established herself as a leading social light of bohemian literary London, making the acquaintance of such Bloomsbury group luminaries as Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence. But it was not for another five years, with the publication of 'Bliss and Other Stories', that her literary reputation caught up with her social one. By this time Katherine had grown tired of 'the pretty rooms, pretty people and pretty coffee' and - as she would for the rest of her short life - pined for her homeland.
Mansfield's writing is often associated with the Impressionist movement that was occurring in the art world. Eschewing plot for carefully chosen episodes, images or thoughts, development is driven by details or symbols. Her characterisations are sensitive and reveal a warm humanity reminiscent of her greatest influence, Chekov. She often drew on her own experiences, with subject matter informed by personal hardships and longings. Her masterpiece, 'The Garden Party' is based on an event she attended while at college that was overshadowed by the accidental death of a cottager.
To many, Katherine Mansfield is inspiration beyond her writings - to some an adventurous modern woman, to others a tragic symbol of talent cut short. Mansfield herself confessed to having 'hundreds of selves', to what extent they populate the pages of her stories, you can decide.
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