Katherine Mansfield, who lived from 1888 to 1923, is considered to be one of the most remarkable short story writers of her time. Using her life experiences as an inspiration for her short stories, Mansfield sculpted her ideas into masterful pieces of literary work. Mansfield’s life was full of interesting experiences that shaped her outlook upon life. The diversity of friends and acquaintances Katherine Mansfield had over her lifetime also had a great influence on her career. Even as a child, Mansfield made decisions about her life that would create a path for her career to start on.
Katherine Mansfield was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp to Harold and Annie Dyer Beauchamp on October 14, 1888. The Beauchamp family called New Zealand their home. “A Sea Voyage”, written by the young Kathleen Beauchamp, won first-place at the Karori Village School, the grammar school she first attended (Nathan 1). This accomplishment encouraged young Beauchamp to continue on writing. After attending grammar school, Kathleen went on to attend Miss Swainson’s Secondary School. During this time, she is acquainted with Maata Mahupuka, a native Maori. Her interest in Mahupuka later grew into a brief love affair with him (Nathan 1). After graduating from secondary school, Miss Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp left New Zealand. She decided this after thwarting the idea of a career in music. Beauchamp went on to attend London’s Queens College and study literature. While in attendance at Queens College, Kathleen made a friend in Ida Baker. Ida Baker, like Beauchamp, was an avid writer. Kathleen gave the pen name “Lesley Moore” to Ida, after Beauchamp’s brother Lesley (Sampson 308). In the spring of 1907, Miss Beauchamp held in garden party and invited many of her acquaintances from college. The party was a complete success until it was discovered that a cottager who lived on the property had been accidentally killed (Nathan 1). This event spawned to become “The Garden Party”, Beauchamp’s first major work (Encarta).
In 1909, Kathleen Beauchamp became acquainted with a man by the name of G. C. Bowden. After only a brief period they became engaged and married. The evening after their marriage, Kathleen left Bowden (Disc. Authors 1). Leaving Bowden, she ran away with her longtime friend Garnet Trowell. Trowell was from Wellington; she was a fairly well known cellist. While running away with Garnet Trowell, Kathleen had an affair with a man who ultimately impregnates her. When Kathleen finally discovered this pregnancy, she returned to her mother for support. Trying to remove Kathleen from the distractions of everyday life, Kathleen’s mother took her to Bad Worishofen, Bavaria to await the pregnancy (Nathan 1). In June of 1909, Kathleen had a miscarriage. While awaiting the birth of her child, Kathleen wrote stories and drew sketches related to her experiences of Bavaria (Disc. Authors 1). She wrote most of her work in her room at the Hotel Kreuzer (Nathan 1).
After battling through difficult times, Beauchamp made many changes in her life. Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp began using the name Katherine Mansfield exclusively starting in 1910 (Nathan 1). Steven Swift, a fairly well known publisher at the time, published the first copies of Mansfield’s “In a German Pension” (Baugh 287). It was originally advertised as a “six-schilling novel” (Baugh 287). Only a short time after the initial publication, Swift added the work onto his list of “Books that Compel” (Sampson 308). During this time, Katherine Mansfield made an acquaintance with an important person. J. Middleton Murry was the editor of Rhyme magazine. Katherine met Murry for the first time when he was twenty-two while working in the same town (Nathan 1). J. Middleton Murry and Katherine Mansfield became closer and their personal relationship grew. Eventually, Murry moved in with Katherine at her London apartment and they soon became lovers. John Middleton Murry and Katherine Beauchamp Mansfield were married on May 3, 1918. This move was made in an act of convenience as well as love, considering Murry was an editor of a magazine that also published short stories. After her marriage to Murry in May of 1918, Katherine went right back to work. In August of the same year, she published the short story “Bliss” in the English Review (Nathan 1).
In early 1918, Mansfield was formally introduced to Virginia Woolf for the first time. This introduction began a great chapter of women’s English literature. Although their personal friendship was close, Wolf and Mansfield were immense literary rivals. Differences between the two included “background, taste, and mode of living”. By being the friend of Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield aided her own success in her work. Katherine revised a work titled “The Aloe” and was able to get it published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s publishing company, Hogarth Press (Mitchell 1).
Several hardships fell on Mansfield in the years following her marriage to Murry. Katherine’s brother Lesley was a soldier in World War I. On October 7, 1915, he was tragically killed in action (Nathan 1). Katherine went into mourning for some time. Even after the death of her brother, her life and emotions were greatly effected (Sampson 308). Katherine’s brother had two nicknames Katherine often called him: “Bogey” and “Johnny”. After his death, she began to call Murry “Bogey”. She used this name in letters and journal entries as well (Nathan 1). Near the time of her latest publication “Bliss”, tragedy struck Mansfield. Her mother, Annie Dyer Beauchamp, passed away. Combined with the earlier loss of her brother, she became grief stricken. The deaths of these two family members became great inspiration for her work. For example, after Katherine’s mother’s passing, Mansfield used many characteristics of her mother as traits for her characters. Sickness hit Mansfield during this time as well. Nearing the end of 1918, Katherine began to feel weak and sickly (Sampson 308).
Mansfield continued with her literary work, even though she was pestered with a constant cough. In 1919, Murry received the editing job at a new journal named Athenaeum (Nathan 1). He appointed Katherine as the novel reviewer for the journal (Disc. Authors 1). While working through her illness, Mansfield began to cough consistently and harshly. After a time, blood began to appear with her cough. As soon as these symptoms began, Katherine immediately went to see a doctor in London. The doctor diagnosed Mansfield with tuberculosis (Baugh 287). This new discovery did not stop Mansfield from continuing her work. Katherine finished two works in progress, “The Garden Party” and “The Doll House”. She also had “Marriage a la Mode” published near the same time. With a great many of her short stories now complete, Mansfield field had enough works to complete yet another collection entitled “The Garden Party, and Other Stories” (Vinson 486). Shortly after this publication, Katherine Mansfield suffered from her first hemorrhage from the tuberculosis. Over the summer of 1922, shortly after her first hemorrhage, Mansfield was able to write three new short stories: “A Cup of Tea”, “Taking the Veil”, and “The Fly” (Vinson 486). In October of 1922, Mansfield, in search of a new treatment for tuberculosis, entered the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainbleau, England. While at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, Katherine was lead by the founder of the institution; his name was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a self-proclaimed mystic. While being subjected to the regimen laid forth by the institute leader, Mansfield’s condition quietly worsened, although not detected at first by Mansfield. While staying at the institute, Katherine was subjected to an extremely strict regimen of diet, exercise, and rest. For Murry, the absence of Katherine was mentally draining. On Jan. 9, 1923, John Murry visited his wife Katherine for the first time since she had left for the institute a year ago. Shortly after Murry arrived, Katherine suffered a massive hemorrhage and passed away. She was laid to rest at the Cemetery at Avon; she was only 34 years old (Nathan 2). Virginia Woolf remarked after the death of Katherine: “I have a feeling that I shall think of her at intervals all through life,” (Mitchell 1).
Katherine Beauchamp Mansfield was and still is one of the great short story writers of English literature. By using life experiences as inspiration for her work, Katherine Mansfield was able to create lifelike short stories. Remarkably, most of Mansfield’s best works came from the time of her battle with tuberculosis. Although only a few of her works have gained fame, the legacy Mansfield began for women writers will be remembered forever.
Baugh, Albert C., ed. A Literary History of England. 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1948.
Discovering Authors. Computer database. Gale Research Inc, 1993.
“Mansfield, Katherine”. Encarta 98 Encyclopedia. 1998 ed. CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation, 1998.
Mitchell, Larry. “Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf”. On-line. Internet. 22 Feb. 1999. Available www.texasa.edu
Nathan, Rhoda B. Katherine Mansfield. New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1988.
Sampson, George, ed. The Concise Cambridge History of English Literature. 3rd ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Vinson, James, ed. Great Writers of the English Language: Novelists and Prose Writers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1979.