Letters and Journals – Katherine Mansfield

 

This is probably the first time that I have read an author’s diary/autobiography before reading any of their literary works. It was quite an interesting experience as, although I’d heard of Katherine Mansfield, I had no idea of her writing style or subject matter. Despite this, I really enjoyed this book. It was a compilation of diary entries, letters Mansfield had written to various recipients, and also her poems. I’m still not sure how likeable Mansfield was as a person but her life was definitely quite interesting.

Mansfield’s sentences were beautiful and poetic at times, especially the ones depicting nature. She travelled quite widely and it seems what she liked to do more than anything was look outside the window.

“The wind with light, faint footfalls walks over the sea: the water rings against the shore, like a bell, striking softly.”

I found Mansfield to be brave and adventurous. She lived at the beginning of the 20th Century yet seems to have been quite a progressive woman.

“I feel that I do now realise, dimly, what women in the future will be capable of. They truly as yet have never had their chance. Talk of our enlightened days and our emancipated country – pure nonsense! We are firmly held with the self-fashioned chains of slavery.”

Throughout the collection, she is witty, passionate and acerbic at times . For example, these are her thoughts on French cuisine: – “How much better than these thrifty French, whose flower gardens are nothing but potential salad bowls. There’s not a leaf in France that you can’t “faire une infusion avec’, not a blade that isn’t ‘bon pour la cuisine.’”

It was interesting to read her thoughts on literature. She was a great reader. She also personally knew a lot of famous writers. For example, she was a friend of DH Lawrence and the character of Gudrun in Lawrence’s Women in Love (a book which I really disliked) was supposedly modelled after Mansfield.

Mansfield was also very honest she was about her dislike for various writers and their works. Take, for example, what she said about George Bernard Shaw :

“There’s no getting over it: he’s a kind of concierge in the house of literature – sits in a glass case, sees everything, knows everything, examines the letters, cleans the stairs, but has no part in the life that is going on.”  (ouch!)

She also gives some advice to those people who want to read James Joyce’s Ulysses :

“About Joyce- Don’t read it unless you are going to really worry about it. It’s no joke. It’s fearfully difficult and obscure and one needs to have a really vivid memory of the Odyssey and of English literature to make it out at all. It is wheels within wheels within wheels.”

A very enjoyable read.

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