Katherine Mansfield

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At a Glance

Katherine Mansfield lived an unorthodox life, especially for the Victorian era in which she lived. She was a writer from a young age, as well as an accomplished cellist. Born in New Zealand, she often felt disillusioned with the country's repression of the Maori people and portrayed Maori characters in a sympathetic light in her own stories. She later moved to England where she met, married, and left her first husband in the span of three weeks. In her journals, she discussed 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. For instance, she received numerous X-rays of her spleen which gave her heat flashes and left her numb. She died at age 34 from tuberculosis. 
  • New Zealand’s most prestigious short story competition is named after Katherine Mansfield.

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Biography

(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...

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