From the Back of Beyond

I visited the birthplace of Katherine Mansfield the other day – a large (for its day) wooden house in one of the older parts of Wellington, New Zealand.  I don’t know Mansfield’s work.  I once read one of her short stores and it left me indifferent but it was hardly enough to judge her work more generally (plus, I’ve mentioned before how I feel about short stories).  But I have always been impressed that she had the gumption to pull herself from the back of beyond – which Wellington in 1908 definitely was – and establish herself as part of the Bloomsbury group despite of (or perhaps because of) her petty bourgeois background and colonial accent.  At the Mansfield house I learned that she would also take on different personas so that she might, as Virginia Woolf notes, “knock about with prostitutes”.  At one point she complained that she had taken on so many masks that she didn’t know what was real any longer, making me think that she wasn’t so much full of gumption but a little unhinged in her search “to be a writer, a real writer”.  It did, however, also make me far more interested in her work.

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