Katherine Mansfield Biography

At a Glance

Katherine Mansfield lived an unorthodox life, especially for the Victorian era in which she lived (first in New Zealand and later in England.) She was a writer from a young age, as well as an accomplished cellist. She often felt disillusioned about New Zealand's repression of the Maori people, portraying Maori characters in sympathetic lights in her own stories. She grew up in New Zealand but later moved to England where she met, married, and left her first husband in the span of three weeks. In her journals she discusses sexual attraction to both men and women, and documented romantic relationships with both.

Her first short story collection was not as successful as she hoped, so she wrote a much darker story, “The Woman at the Store,” which helped her achieve some success. It was not, however, until the end of her life that her writing won over critics and the public.

Facts and Trivia

  • Mansfield was born in a well-to-do family and was first cousin to the author Countess Elizabeth von Arnim, who wrote The Enchanted April.
  • Before beginning her writing career, Mansfield considered pursuing a career as a professional cellist.
  • Virginia Woolf, a friend and rival of Mansfield, wrote in her diary that Mansfield’s work was “the only writing I have ever been jealous of.”
  • Mansfield almost died of pleurisy after getting tuberculosis in 1917. In 1918, she had a major hemorrhage. She sought different treatments, many of which left her in worse shape than when she started, for instance, getting numerous X-rays of her spleen which left her with heat flashes and numbness. She died at age 34.
  • New Zealand’s most prestigious short story competition is named after Katherine Mansfield.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Katherine Mansfield played an important role in the modernization of short-story technique. Born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, on October 14, 1888, she was the daughter of a successful Wellington businessman, Harold Beauchamp, and his wife, Annie Burnell, a sickly woman who was somewhat detached from her children. With three sisters and one brother, Mansfield was reared without physical want (her father eventually became a director of the Bank of New Zealand) in and around Wellington. She traveled to England in 1903 and spent four years there attending Queen’s College in London, thoroughly enjoying the intellectual stimulation and new friends. It was at this time that she met Ida Baker, the girl who became her lifelong close friend and who appears in various guises in some of Mansfield’s stories. Mansfield returned unwillingly to New Zealand in 1906 and resigned herself to living with parents from whom she felt increasingly alienated. She began to practice writing by experimenting with stories and sketches, and in 1908 she returned to London alone, determined to become a literary artist. She dropped her surname in 1910 and settled on Katherine as her first name.{$S[A]Beauchamp, Kathleen Mansfield;Mansfield, Katherine}

She immediately plunged into a bohemian lifestyle, found herself pregnant, married a man (not the baby’s father) and left him on the same day, and was sent to Germany by her family to have the baby. She had a miscarriage and, during her half-year there, wrote her first published stories, a series of satirical sketches of German people which already showed themes of female subjection and domination by the male. Returning to England, she met John Middleton Murry, who became her lover and later her husband. From 1912 to 1917 she continued her close relationship with Baker and later became acquainted with the Bloomsbury group of socialites and artists, including Virginia Woolf. Mansfield wanted to be considered as an equal by this group, but they generally looked on her as an interesting provincial type. She worked for several years as an assistant editor of Rhythm, a literary magazine, at the same time...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Almost everything Katherine Mansfield wrote was autobiographical in some way. It helps a reader to know about Mansfield’s life because she often does not identify her stories’ locations. For example, readers may be puzzled by her combining English manners and exotic flora in her New Zealand stories.

The author was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand, on October 14, 1888. (In her lifetime, she used many names. Her family called her “Kass.” She took “Katherine Mansfield” as her name in 1910.) Her father, Harold Beauchamp, was an importer who became chairman of the Bank of New Zealand and was knighted in 1923. In 1903, the Beauchamps sailed for London, where Kass was enrolled at Queen’s College, an institution for young women much like a university. She remained at Queen’s until 1906, reading advanced authors such as Oscar Wilde and publishing stories in the college magazine. Her parents brought her back to Wellington in 1906, where she published her first stories in a newspaper. She left New Zealand for London in 1908, never to return.

Her next decade was one of personal complexities and artistic growth. She was sexually attracted to both women and men. At Queen’s College, she met Ida Baker, her friend and companion for much of her life. Back in London, she fell in love with a violinist whom she had known in New Zealand. After she learned that she was pregnant by him, she abruptly married George C. Bowden on March 2, 1909, and as abruptly left him. At her mother’s insistence, she traveled to Germany, where she had a miscarriage. The Bowdens were not divorced until April, 1918.

In Germany she met the Polish translator Floryan Sobieniowski, who, in the...

(The entire section is 707 words.)