Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller by Kathleen Jones - review by Pamela Norris

Pamela Norris

A Short Story

Katherine Mansfield: The Story-Teller


Edinburgh University Press 524pp £25 order from our bookshop

The writer known as Katherine Mansfield died of tuberculosis in January 1923. She was only thirty-four, and her work had been interrupted by lack of money and a settled home, and increasingly by illness. Despite these impediments, she published several collections of short stories, and left other stories, poems, reviews, notebooks and letters, which were edited for publication over the next thirty years by her husband, the critic and writer John Middleton Murry. Often praised for her modernist approach, Mansfield’s aim as a writer was to record her observations of life as truthfully as possible, drawing freely on her New Zealand childhood, her travels in Europe and her emotional attachments to both men and women. Detail fascinated her, whether of landscape, interiors or the nuances of personal relationships, and she developed a technique of allowing a story to unfold through the private thoughts and actions of her characters, often cunningly shifting perspective by moving from one character’s consciousness to another’s. Particularly striking is her ability to expand some apparently minor scene or incident into universal significance, whether the deception of an innocent girl in ‘The Little Governess’ or the humiliation of an impoverished teacher in ‘Miss Brill’.

Like Sylvia Plath (whose husband also edited her work for posthumous publication), Mansfield’s output, although distinctive, was slender, and it is the details of her life, as much as her literary achievements, that have kept her in the public eye. Like Plath, she was a sexually active young

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