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Katherine Mansfield, pseudonym of Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp Biography

(1888–1923), pseudonym of Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, New Age, In a German Pension, Rhythm, Prelude, Bliss

British short-story writer, born in Wellington, New Zealand, educated at Queen's College, London between 1903 and 1906. Returning to New Zealand in 1906 she rapidly tired of staid colonial society and returned to London. She became involved in a series of unsatisfactory affairs and a short-lived marriage in 1909 to George Bowden. The despondency caused by a pregnancy by another man, which had resulted in a miscarriage in Bavaria, was reflected in many of her early stories, first published in A. R. Orage's New Age, and later collected as In a German Pension (1911). In 1911 she met John Middleton Murry, but could not marry him until 1918, and began contributing stories to Rhythm of which Murry was editor. Through Murry, and as a result of her growing literary reputation, she became associated with the Bloomsbury Group, although she was never entirely accepted by the circle; Virginia Woolf, in particular, betrayed an envious dislike of Mansfield in her journals. Mansfield and Murry developed a friendship with D. H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda, but a period spent in neighbouring cottages in Cornwall in 1915 ended in the near-rupture of the relationship. In 1915, Mansfield's younger brother Leslie arrived from New Zealand but soon after enlisting was killed on the Western Front. Devastated by her brother's death, Mansfield was determined to recreate, through her fiction, the experiences of their shared childhood. Her fine story ‘The Aloe’, later revised and published by the Hogarth Press as Prelude (1918), was one result and displays the sharp observation of character and impressionistic detail of her mature fiction. The story was later published in the collection Bliss (1920) which includes some of her best work, including the title story first published in 1918 in The English Review, in which a young married woman exults in a moment of perfect happiness, only to feel it shattered by the realization that her husband has been betraying her. Mansfield's own sense of the fragility of contentment had been sharpened, in 1918, by the diagnosis of the pulmonary tuberculosis which was eventually to kill her. Despite her failing health, she published a third collection of stories, The Garden Party, in 1922. Many of the stories written during this period reflect an awareness of mortality and the ephemeral nature of human relationships. After Mansfield's death at the Gurdjieff Institute at Fontainebleau, where she had gone in search of remission from her illness, Murry collected work from her last months, some of which remained unfinished. Two posthumous collections, The Dove's Nest (1923) and Something Childish (1924), confirmed her reputation as a distinctive and innovative writer, and showed her allegiance to Chekhov. Murry also published her Journal (1927; revised 1954) and the two-volume Letters (1928). The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield appeared in 1939, and Letters to John Middleton Murry in 1951, but Murry's selective rearrangement of material only became apparent after his death in 1957. A fuller collection, The Letters and Journals of Katherine Mansfield (edited by C. K. Stead, 1976), gives a more accurate picture of her turbulent emotional life, her ambiguous attitude towards her native country, and her difficult and often strained relationship with Murry. A biography by A. Alpers appeared in 1953 (revised 1980); Alpers also edited The Stories of Katherine Mansfield (1984). Her Collected Letters (1983; edited by V. O'Sullivan and M. Scott) corrected earlier omissions and alterations. Claire Tomalin's biography, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life, and her edition of The Critical Writings of Katherine Mansfield both appeared in 1987.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Madras House to Harriet Martineau Biography