Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield (October 14, 1888 – January 9, 1923) was born in Wellington, New Zealand as Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp, which she simplified to Katherine Mansfield for her pen name. She enjoyed a happy childhood as part of a well to do family. She moved to London in 1903 to attend Queens College along with her sisters, and there began writing in earnest, though she was a serious student of the cello (and believed that would be her career).

New Zealand felt alienating to her upon returning from her studies, but it was then, in 1908, that she began writing short stories. Her stories depicted ordinary lives in a bold and powerful way. Some didn’t have neat endings; others were left open-ended for the reader to puzzle out. Her first collection of stories was published in 1911, titled In a German Pension.

An odd rivalry percolated between her and Virginia Woolf, who once said that Katherine Mansfield had produced “the only writing I have ever been jealous of.” But on the other hand Woolf wrote, “The more she is praised,  the more I am convinced she is bad.”

In her brief life, Mansfield had a great many lovers, both male and female; her most tumultuous relationship was with the man she married, John Middleton Murry, whom she met in his capacity as an editor of a magazine to which she submitted work.

Katherine Mansfield was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1917, but continued to write on a daily basis. Doing whatever she could to combat her illness, she entered the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in France. She died there three months later at the age of 34.

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Katherine Mansfield Quotes

katherine mansfield“I have discovered that I cannot burn the candle at one end and write a book with the other.” (From her journal, June 10, 1919)

“Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinion of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.” (From her journal, October 14, 1922)

“I believe the greatest failing of all is to be frightened.” (From a letter to John Middleton Murry, October, 18 1920)

“To work — to work! It is such infinite delight to know that we still have the best things to do.” (From a letter to Bertrand Russell, December 7, 1916)

“The mind I love must have wild places, a tangled orchard where dark damsons drop in the heavy grass, an overgrown little wood, the chance of a snake or two, a pool that nobody’s fathomed the depth of, and paths threaded with flowers planted by the mind.” (Katherine Mansfield Notebooks: Complete Edition, 2002)

“What is it with me? Am I absolutely nobody, but merely inordinately vain? I do not know…. But I am most fearfully unhappy. That is all. I am so unhappy that I wish I was dead—yet I should be mad to die when I have not yet lived at all.”

“To be alive and to be a ‘writer’ is enough.”

“I’m a writer first and a woman after.” (From a letter to John Middleton Murry, December 3, 1920)

“Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. Life would undergo a change of appearance because we ourselves had undergone a change of attitude.”

“I have made it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy, and no one who intends to become a writer can afford to indulge in it. You can’t get it into shape; you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.” (Bliss and Other Stories, 1920)

“The pleasure of all reading is doubled when one lives with another who shares the same books.” (From a letter to Ottoline Morrell, January 1922)

“When we can begin to take our failures seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves.” (from her journal, October 1922)

“… Every true admirer of the novels cherishes the happy thought that he alone – reading between the lines – has become the secret friend of their author.”

“To acknowledge the presence of fear is to give birth to failure.” (Journal entry from “Reading Notes”, 1905-1907)

“What do you want most to do? That’s what I have to keep asking myself, in the face of difficulties.”

“Without passion, one writes in the air, or on the sands of the seashore.”
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