Book Shelf THE STACKS

Bliss

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
On Today’s Menu:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
** Share some birthday Pavlova cake
for a New Zealand’s most famous writer.
** Linger to ponder the joy within a story that’s not particularly joyful.
** Savor a last ½ cup on a trip to Belgium, circa 2013.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

STT-55

First Sip:

Although Bertha Young was thirty
she still had moments like this
when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take
dancing steps on and off the pavement…
to stand still and laugh at—nothing—
at nothing, simply.

– Katherine Mansfield

Bay of Plenty
New Zealand 2004
(photo by Elle)

Slice of Cake:

In 1919 there was a hit song titled
How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm After They’ve Seen Paree?

Sophie Tucker introduced it in her vaudeville act in 1919
and it was very popular with young American soldiers
returning from World War 1. 1

But its theme also seems very appropriate for a
restless young Katherine Mansfield some 13 years earlier…

Born in Wellington,
New Zealand

Her parents named her Kathleen,
and from her early school days, she loved music and writing stories.
One of her teachers described her as ‘imaginative to the point of untruth’. 2

Nobody saw it, I felt, as I did.
My mind was just like a squirrel.
I gathered and gathered and
hid away, for the long ‘winter’ when
I should rediscover all this treasure—
and if anyone came close
I scuttled up the tallest, darkest tree
and hid in the branches.

– from the journals
of
Katherine Mansfield

She won a story contest at age 8. The title was A Sea Voyage.
By the time she was 10, and too young to be in high school,
she’d had two stories published in a high school magazine.
At age 11, another of her stories was published in a Wellington newspaper. 2


At School in England

When Kathleen is 14,
she and her family travel by ship
from their home in Wellington, New Zealand to London, England.
It was Jan 1903 and the voyage took 42 days.

In London, her parents enroll Kathleen and her two older sisters in a boarding school.

On her very first day at the school, Kathleen befriends Ida Baker.
The two girls become fast friends and they decide they want to change their names:

Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp becomes Katherine Mansfield.
Ida Baker becomes Lesley Moore—and they are K.M. and L.M. from then on.
L.M. proves to be a very loyal and life-long friend. 2

In September 1903, Katherine’s parents return to New Zealand
leaving the three sisters at school in London.
Their Aunt Bella lives nearby and acts as chaperon.2

At school, Katherine continues her pursuit of music and story writing.
She dreams of becoming a professional musician and practices her cello diligently.
Five of her short stories are published in the school magazine.2

Katherine Mansfield, age 15
with her cello at school, 1904
Alexander Turnbull Library
National Library of New Zealand , Wellington

In March 1906, her Aunt Belle takes the three sisters to visit Paris and Brussels.

The very next month, Katherine’s parents arrive in England.
KM wrote to her cousin:

‘Father is greatly opposed my wish to be a professional cellist.
In the future I shall give all my time to writing.’
2

The month Katherine turns 18, her parents prepare to leave England.
Katherine protests. She wants to stay. But her parents insist she return with them to New Zealand.

Before leaving, KM told L.M.:

‘When I get to New Zealand, I’ll make myself so objectionable
that they’ll have to send me away.’
2


Back in New Zealand

It takes her two years and three months
to wear her parents down.

In the meantime,
Katherine practices her cello.
She reads books—classic and modern fiction, plus new non-fiction about social reform.
She takes a month-long trip into remote mountains of the central North Island.
She has affairs with women and is briefly (and perhaps fictitiously) engaged to a man.
She writes long letters to her friend L.M., who replies with news of life in London.
She successfully publishes four of her stories in a popular Australian magazine—plus three more stories in periodicals in New Zealand.2
And she continues to quarrel with her parents about returning to Europe.

In the winter of her 20th year, her father finally relents.
He agrees to give her a annual allowance of £100 and books her passage to England.2


England & the Continent

In July 1908, Katherine Mansfield sets sail for Europe.
She will never see New Zealand again.

Over the next six months, Mansfield manages to:
Get a story published in The Evening Post.
Marry a man she’s just metonly to leave him that same day.
Run off with a violinist on tour, and end up alone and pregnant in Brussels. 2

In late May 1909, her mother arrives.
She takes Katherine to a spa town in Germany.
Her mother leaves in mid-June, probably never knowing of Katherine’s pregnancy.
In late June, Katherine has a miscarriage.

By mid-August, her mother is back home in New Zealand, where she legally cuts Katherine out of her will.2

With financial help from her friend L.M., Katherine returns to London in January 1911.

Six of her stories are published during 1910.
This is also the year that Katherine’s health begins to decline.

In May 1911, her family arrives in London for the coronation of King George V.
They stay for almost a year, but it’s not clear how much time Katherine spends with them.
She has been diagnosed with ‘pleurisy’ and told to seek warmer weather.

Katherine travels to Bruges, Belgium and also spends time in Geneva, Switzerland during the summer of 1911.2

That winter, her first collection of short stories is published in book form
with the title In a German Pension.
(The London Daily Telegraph calls it ‘impish’.)


Her brother Leslie

Katherine’s younger brother Leslie arrives in England for military training in February 1915.
The two ‘bump into each other in London and have lunch.’ 2

Over the next six months, Leslie stays with Katherine several times, and they spend long hours reminiscing about their childhood in Wellington.

For the first time, Mansfield begins to write stories set in New Zealand.
One of these stories, The Wind Blows, ends with a fantasy of a brother and sister leaving New Zealand together.

A big black steamer
with a long loop of smoke streaming, with the
portholes lighted, with lights everywhere,
is putting out to sea.
The wind does not stop her;
she cuts through the waves…
They are on board leaning over the rail arm in arm…
“Look…there’s the town.
Doesn’t it look small?”
…Good-bye, little island, good-bye…”
Now the dark stretches a wing over the tumbling water.
They can’t see those two any more.
Good bye, good-bye. Don’t forget…

But the ship is gone, now.

– from The Wind Blows
by
Katherine Mansfield

At the end of September, Leslie leaves for the front.

This is not a letter.
It is only my arms around you
for a quick minute.

– letter from Katherine Mansfield
to her brother Leslie Beauchamp
September 25, 1915

On October 4, 1915, The Wind Blows is published.4
Two days later, Leslie is killed by a grenade.

Over the next several years, Katherine’s health continues to worsen.
She continues to have more stories published.


Her friend Virginia

Katherine Mansfield is introduced to Virginia Woolf
by a mutual friend, Lytton Strachey.
The two begin meeting regularly.

In late 1917, Katherine’s symptoms worsen
and her doctor again urges her to travel to a warmer climate.
She travels alone to the South of France in January 1918;
L.M. joins her as soon as she can.

When the two friends try to leave France they get as far as Paris, but then are stopped
by German bombardment and are unable to travel for weeks.
They finally return to England in April 1918.

In July 1918, the Hogarth Press, run by Virginia and Leonard Woolf,
published Mansfield’s longish short story Prelude.

(Whenever I hear about how Katherine Mansfield wrote no novels
and ‘only’ short storiesI think about Virginia Woolf.
Woolf was 33 years old when her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published.
Katherine Mansfield only lived to the age of 34.)

I was jealous of her writing.
The only writing I have ever been jealous of.

– Virginia Woolf
about Katherine Mansfield 4


Her friend Anne

The summer Prelude was published, Katherine was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the disease that she would die of four years later.

She spent time that summer in Cornwall, at the home of her friend,
the painter Anne Rice.

Rice wanted to paint Katherine, and Katherine suggested it be in vivid red.

Anne came early and began the great painting—
me in that red, brick red frock with flowers everywhere.
It’s awfully interesting, even now.
I painted her in my way
as she painted me in hers:
her eyes…little blue flowers plucked this morning.

– Katherine Mansfield
in a letter, July 1918

Katherine Mansfield
by Anne Estelle Rice (1918)
Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Happy 132nd Birthday
** Katherine Mansfield **

– born 14 October 1888
in Wellington, New Zealand

.


Linger Awhile:

I’ve been thinking this week about joy.
Not joy because of… But joy in spite of.

Even though her stories rarely have a happy ending,
Katherine Mansfield’s descriptions of happiness are so full, so contagious.
It makes her prose feel luxurious to read.

Short stories can be like photographs,
catching people at some moment in their lives and
trapping the memory for ever.
There they are, smiling or frowning,
looking sad, happy, serious, surprised …
And behind those smiles and those frowns

lie all the experience of life,
the fears and delights, the hopes and the dreams.

― Katherine Mansfield

I want to talk about three of her stories in particular,
but first I have a true confession.

One week, in April 2003, my family took a trip to Wellington.

It was a 7-hour train ride plus a 3-hour ferry ride
to get from our house in Christchurch
(through the port at Picton)
into Wellington Harbour.

While we were there, I spent an afternoon at
The Katherine Mansfield House & Garden.
It is a wonderful museum in the home where Mansfield was born, and where her family lived until she was five years old.

Here’s my true confession.
I didn’t really know who Katherine Mansfield was at this point—
I thought I’d read her work. But when the tour guide
showed us an actual toy doll house,
I began to realize that I had most likely mixed up Mansfield’s
The Doll’s House (1922) with A Doll’s House (1879), the play by Ibsen—
with perhaps a bit of The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), a short story
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman or even
The Awakening (1899), a novel by Kate Chopin.

I know I could have appreciated her house a lot more—
and am kicking myself for not reading up beforehand.

(My daughter says she feels the same way about the Xena costume
we saw at Te Papa Museum on that same trip.
Back then, she was not yet the true Warrior Princess fan
she would become a few years later—and still is today).


The Garden Party

‘Have one each, my dears,’ said cook
in her comfortable voice. “Yer ma won’t know.”

Oh, impossible.
Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast.
The very idea made one shudder.

All the same,
two minutes later Jose and Laura were licking their fingers
with that absorbed inward look that only comes
from whipped cream.

– from ‘The Garden Party’
by
Katherine Mansfield

The Garden Party and The Doll’s House are two of Katherine Mansfield’s most famous stories.

But her stories are not ‘just‘ about a dollhouse or a garden party.
They are about the prejudice that is moldering away just underneath the beauty, the manners, the traditions, the seemingly inescapable ‘way things are done, dear.’

Mansfield is a joy to read for the beauty of one layer.
But make no mistake, that other layer is there.

There’s a marvelously detailed timeline of Katherine Mansfield’s life and work that the museum provides. In it, I found this interesting note about a visit between Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf in August 1917.

‘Woolf shows Katherine her story ‘Kew Gardens,’ apparently written following a suggestion from Katherine.’ The style of the story is something new for Woolf. ‘It marks Woolf’s first departure from traditional narrative.’ 2

I don’t know what suggestion Katherine gave Virginia, but here’s an interesting parallel I’ve noticed.

Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway (1925) takes place over one day.
It’s about preparations for a party, and about joy in everyday life.
On that same day there is a man (whom the main character hears about
but never meets) who dies.

Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Garden Party (1922) takes place over one day.
It’s about preparations for a party, and about joy in everyday life.
On that same day there is a man (whom the main character hears about
but never meets) who dies.

And everywhere,
though it was still so early,
there was a beating, a stirring
of galloping ponies, tapping of cricket bats…
The whirling young men, and laughing girls in their
transparent muslins who, even now, after dancing all night, were
taking their absurd woolly dogs for a run…
She too, loving it as she did with an
absurd and faithful passion; she, too, was going
that very night to kindle and illuminate;

to give her party.

– from Mrs Dalloway
by
Virginia Woolf


All the doors in the house seemed to be open.
The house was alive with soft, quick steps
and running voices… But the air!
If you stopped to notice, was the air always like this?
Little faint winds were playing chase,
in at the tops of the windows, out at the doors.
And there were two tiny spots of sun,
one on the inkpot, one on a silver photograph frame,
playing too. Darling little spots.
Especially the one on the inkpot lid. It was quite warm.
A warm little silver star. She could have kissed it.

– from The Garden Party (1922)
by
Katherine Mansfield


Bliss

In this story, a young woman named Bertha wants to spend time with her daughter,
to have the baby all to herself—and she does get a few moments,
but then she is called away to the phone and
Nurse is ‘triumphant’ when Bertha must give the baby back.

Nurse sat a a low table giving Little B her supper…
She stood watching them, her hands by her side,
like the poor little girl in front of the rich little girl with the doll.

The baby looked up…and then smiled smiled so charmingly
that Bertha couldn’t help crying:
‘Oh, Nanny, do let me finish giving her her supper…’
‘Well, M’m, she oughtn’t to be changed hands while she’s eating…’
How absurd it was. Why have a baby if it has to be kept…in another woman’s arms?
‘Oh, I must!’ she said.
Very offended, Nanny handed her over.


‘Now I’ve got you to myself, my little precious,’
said Bertha, as the baby leaned against her.
She ate delightfully,
holding up her lips for the spoon and then waving her hands…
She loved Little B so much…
all her feeling of bliss came back again,
and again she didn’t know how to express it—
what to do with it.


‘You’re wanted on the telephone,’ said Nanny,
coming back in triumph and seizing her Little B.

– from Bliss (1918)
by Katherine Mansfield

(The telephone call was from her husband
saying he’d be late for dinner…)

Bertha wants intimacy and exclusivity with her baby daughter,
but instead she sees another woman’s triumphant look.
This foreshadows finding out about her husband’s affair.


Prelude

This one of the many of Katherine Mansfield’s stories that are semi-autobiographicaland it contains some of her recurring characters:

There are three little girls: Isabel, Lottie, and Kezia.
(With Kezia representing Katherine herself.)
Their father is Stanley Burnell.
Their mother is Linda Fairfield Burnell.
Their warm, indulgent grandmother is Mrs Fairfield.
Pat is the handy-man who works for them.
And their young, restless aunt is Beryl Fairfield.

Katherine Mansfield’s stories are rarely in the first person.
Yet she writes intimately, moment-to-moment inside a child’s head.
Her young narrator does not describe characters—
she is inside the family and these people (Mother, Pat, Aunt Beryl)
are an inevitable presence. Nothing to remark on.
It would be like describing oxygen molecules in the air we breathe.

Yet, in just a few paragraphs she can give us a
complete picture of each of them in turn.

This story also shows us the ups and downs of emotions,
of both bliss and despair.

‘Oh, she cried, ‘I am so miserable—
so frightfully miserable…
I’m always acting a part.
I’m never my real self for a moment.’
And plainly, plainly, she saw her false self
running up and down the stairs, laughing a special
trilling laugh if they had visitors,
standing under the lamp if a man came to dinner,
so that he should see the light on her hair…
How dispicable! Dispicable! Her heart was cold with rage.
‘It’s marvellous how you keep it up,’ said she to her false self.
But then it was only because she was so miserable…

If she had been happy and leading her own life,
her false life would cease to be…

– from Prelude (1917)
by
Katherine Mansfield


Burnell was impatient to be out of the town.
He wanted to be home.
Ah, it was splendid to live in the country…
And this drive in the fresh warm air,
knowing all the while that his own house was at
the other end, with its garden and paddocks…
As they…bowled away up the deserted road
his heart beat hard for joy.

He put his arms round her and
pressed her head into his shoulder.
‘I’m so confoundedly happy,’ he said.
‘Are you?’ She turned and…looked up at him.
‘I don’t know what
has come over me,’ he protested.

– from Prelude (1917)
by
Katherine Mansfield



“Half Cup More”

Two of Katherine Mansfield’s stories are about a trip she made to Bruges, Belgium.

The train swung out of the station;
the air, blowing through the open windows,
smelled of fresh leaves.
There were sudden pools of light in the darkness;
when I arrived at Bruges
the bells were ringing,
and white and mysterious shone the
moon over the Grand’ Place.

– from The Journey to Bruges (1911)
by
Katherine Mansfield

I visited Bruges in July 2013.
There I found a true story about a group of women who had worked to create
a blissful place of their own.

July 2013
Bruges


On our first day in Bruges, Prof B and I stumbled upon a
beautiful, mysterious place
: A tree-filled square, a cloister,
enclosed on four sides by rows of white-washed dwellings,
mostly two- and three-story houses, with a chapel on one side.
The wind was lightly ruffling the tops of the tall trees.
It felt utterly tranquil and suffused with silence.

Ten Wijngaerde Beguinage
since 1245 AD

I visited the small chapel and lit a candle.
There was also a small gift shop, I bought a small bracelet for Katherine,
just because it seemed like a place she would love.

We walked from one end to the other of this peaceful place,
but had no idea what it was.

We had entered over a three-arched stone bridge.
Atop the bridge is a date: 1776, along with the word Sauvengarde.
We left by a gate at the other end of the square and
it told a very different date: MCCXXXXV
1245 A.D.

Brug Wijngaard
(Vinyard Bridge)

Later, I did some research and here’s what I found:

In the 13th century, a group of women (‘widows and spinsters’),
were inspired by the medieval mystical movement and
wanted to live set apart from society—
where they could work and pray, but without being bound
to the ‘poverty, chastity, and obedience’ of the established religious orders.5

.

Provided with funding by a wealthy woman named
Margareta of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders,
the women formed the Beguinage or ‘City of Peace’
organizing for themselves an enclosed, independent,
and self-supporting community.

They were not nuns. They took no vows and
were free to leave at will.

The women lived alone or with a few ‘colleagues.’
They supported themselves by washing wool in the canals
and taking in laundry from nearby St-John’s,
a combination hospital & traveler’s inn.5

The word Sauvengarde I’d seen on the bridge means Sovereignty,
as in ‘released from the jurisdiction of the town.’
In other words, independent.

This independent community that women founded here
continued for almost seven hundred years.
From 1245 until 1927,
when it was converted into a Catholic abbey.5

Ten Wijngaerde Beguinage (pronounced beh-gee-NAJ)
is now a UNESCO Heritage Site.

At evensong I shall lie in the long grass of the
Béguinage meadow
and look up at the elm trees—
their leaves touched with gold light and
quivering in the blue air—listening the while
to the voices of nuns at prayer in the little chapel,
and growing full enough of grace

to last me the whole winter.

– from Being a Truthful Adventure (1911)
by
Katherine Mansfield

.


Take-Away Box

What can you do if you are thirty and,
turning the corner of your own street,
you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss—
absolute bliss!—
as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of
that late afternoon sun
and it burned in your bosom,
sending out a little shower of sparks
into every particle, into every finger and toe?

– from Bliss
by
Katherine Mansfield

.


Thank you for reading!
Kelly J Hardesty

Thoughts? Questions?
Scroll down to the endand you can leave me note!
Always so lovely to hear from you.

You Can Read More…

Cover art by J.C. Leyendecker
for This Side of Paradise (1920)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

notes & footnotes
———————————-

1.
How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)
music by and words by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis.
This iconic song was first introduced to vaudeville by Sophie Tucker in 1919.

2.
Katherine Mansfield:
A Voyage through Life, Loves, Literature

compiled by Cherie Jacobson, Nicola Saker and Roger Joyce

I am grateful for this beautifully detailed
timeline of the author’s life and work provided by

The Katherine Mansfield House & Garden Museum
Wellington, New Zealand
https://www.katherinemansfield.com/

3.
Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Wind Blows
was first published in Signature,
a literary magazine begun by DH Lawrence
and Katherine’s 2nd husband, John Murry.
She would also publish The Little Governess in this magazine.
For both stories, Mansfield used the pen name Matilda Berry.

4.
I listened to two video lectures by
Dr Oliver Tearle,
literary critic and lecturer in English
Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England

about a Katherine Mansfield’s short story
https://interestingliterature.com/2016/01/a-short-analysis-of-the-garden-party/

and about a short story by Virginia Woolf
https://interestingliterature.com/2019/02/a-summary-and-analysis-of-virginia-woolfs-kew-gardens/

5
Since 1927, Beguinage Ten Wijngaerde in Bruges, Belgium
has been a monastery for a small group of Benedictine nuns.
About 25 sisters still live there.


A Lost World Made by Women
by Richard B. Woodward
New York Times
July 13, 2008
https://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/13/travel/13journeys.html

STT-55

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© Kelly J Hardesty 2022

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