Was Katherine Mansfield a powerful or powerless women in real life? How does her writing about women in her short stories relate to her life?
Katherine Mansfield was privileged and sent by her parents from New Zealand to London to be educated. She studied music and writing. After returning to New Zealand, her rebelliousness and adventuresomeness prompted her to reject the expectation of marriage and embrace the artist community. She returned to London, associated with the bohemian artist set there and engaged in unsanctioned romantic relationships that led to a pregnancy. Her mother sailed to London to rescue her after a marriage that lasted less than 24 hours to a man she barely knew. While resting at a spa in Germany that her mother sent her to, Katherine had a miscarriage. It is from this wild, bohemian nature, which threw commonsense and restrain to the winds, that the inspiration for her writings came. It may be concluded that her stories do not reflect her life but do reflect the opposition she so strongly felt toward the social and cultural constraints of the expectations for women.
Sometimes we can express in a story what we cannot say about ourselves. By exploring the relationships of fictional characters, especially with intensity in her short stories, allows Mansfield to reflect on her own life and relationships. Her characters can be and do what she isn't and can't.
Clearly Katherine Mansfield was only able to write so eloquently about the position of women and its various challenges and opportunities based on some serious experience herself of occupying such a position in patriarchal world. In addition to the excellent points made above, I would add that a key element of Mansfield's experience was being born and brought up in New Zealand, but always wanting to go and live in London. She was sent their for schooling, but only for one year, after which she had to return. This was a very difficult time in her life.
Secondly, I would also add that it was the death of her brother that made her determined to write about New Zealand, the homeland of both herself and her brother. These experiences of grief and isolation definitely could be said to have helped her develop her understanding of the position of women which is captured so expertly in her fiction.
Katherine Mansfield was a very experienced woman in terms of social relationships, and strove to have power within them. Her early life was materially secure but emotionally turbulent as her father and mother were very different, and distant from their children.
Once Katherine reached adulthood, her life became very bohemian and passionate, as she had a day-long marriage, was pregnant to another man and lived with her partner John Middleton Murry for six years until her terminal illness prompted them to marry.
Katherine also had a close relationship throughout her life with a female friend, Ida Baker. Together they became part of the Bloomsbury group.
It is very evident that Mansfield was fascinated- sometimes appalled -by the roles of men and women in society. She was able to flex the boundaries of the times concerning marriage, sex, motherhood and friendship. These experiences certainly gave her the power to express her observations eloquently in the short story form.