Claudia FitzHerbert

‘Life is the Only Cure for Life’

The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield, Volume 5: 1922

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Katherine Mansfield was a miniaturist of genius, whose characters arrive without baggage in stories which often begin and end with a question. Her characters are both desperate and comic. They burn with life as they miss one point and fix on another (which won’t save them either), while in the background the sea heaves and the sky changes colour and flowers open and close. After what she regarded as a false start – a series of sketches published as In a German Pension (1911) – most of the stories for which she is best known (many of them set in the New Zealand of her childhood) were written between 1917, when she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and her death from the disease six years later, aged thirty-four. In her fiction the atmosphere of consumptive brightness is sometimes cloying; in her letters it is plainly moving. ‘One eats the air in slices with big bits of sun spread on them’, she writes to the painter Dorothy Brett.

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