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Murry [née Beauchamp; other married name Bowden], Kathleen [known as Katherine Mansfield]free

(1888–1923)
  • Claire Tomalin

Kathleen Murry [Katherine Mansfield] (1888–1923)

by Ida Baker, 1920 [at her work table at the Villa Isola, Menton, France]

Ida Baker Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa

Murry [née Beauchamp; other married name Bowden], Kathleen [known as Katherine Mansfield] (1888–1923), writer, was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp at 11 Tinakori Road, Wellington, New Zealand, on 14 October 1888. She was the third child and daughter of Harold Beauchamp (1858–1938) and his wife, Anne Burnell (Annie) Dyer (1864–1918), both born in Australia of parents who had left England in the mid-nineteenth century. Harold Beauchamp had a hard start in life and scant education, but he was ambitious and able, and he prospered greatly as a businessman in the expanding economy of New Zealand; his wife shared his financial and social aspirations. They made the first of many voyages to England in the year after Kathleen's birth, leaving the children in the care of Mrs Beauchamp's mother. There were two more daughters, one dying in infancy, and a cherished son, Leslie. Kathleen, never a favourite, felt herself to be 'the odd man out of the family—the ugly duckling' (Turnbull Library Record, 8).

Education and early life

In 1893 the Beauchamps moved out of Wellington to a country house at Karori, where Kathleen attended primary school (some of her best-known stories, including 'Prelude' and 'At the Bay', draw on memories of this time). They returned to the city in 1898, and the girls went to the high school and then to the more exclusive Miss Swainson's school. By now Kathleen was a keen reader and beginning to write stories.

In 1903 Beauchamp, eager for his three elder daughters to be ‘finished’ in Europe, took them to London and left them at Queen's College, the remarkable school founded by F. D. Maurice. They remained for three years in this liberal environment; teaching was by visiting professors, and pupils were free to walk about London unchaperoned. They were also allowed to choose their own course of studies, in Kathleen's case music, German, French, and English. Under the influence of an enthusiastic teacher, Walter Rippmann, she read Ibsen, Tolstoy, Shaw, and Wilde, and edited the school magazine, for which she wrote stories. She also made a friendship that lasted throughout her life with Ida Baker, who gave her an intense and unwavering devotion, and although Kathleen was an imperious and sometimes cruel friend, she thereafter called on Ida whenever she needed help.

Kathleen and her sisters were given holidays in Paris and Brussels, where two young New Zealand musicians, the Trowell brothers, gave her a glimpse of the vie de bohème which impressed her. She went reluctantly home to New Zealand in 1906, determined to persuade her parents to allow her to return to London. As she saw it, they stood for trade, she for art. She continued to read voraciously—Maupassant, Bashkirtseff, Balzac—and placed some stories in a New Zealand magazine, the Native Companion. She made a trip through the northern wilderness of New Zealand, and also conducted a love affair with a young woman artist, Edith Bendall. This may have persuaded her parents to let her go, and she sailed for England in July 1908. She never returned to New Zealand, and spent the rest of her life on the move.

Arriving in London, Kathleen had an allowance of £100 a year and a room booked in a hostel for young women in Warwick Crescent, Paddington. Ida Baker met the boat train, and became her principal support through the chaotic events of the next year, during which Kathleen joined a touring opera company to be with the young musician Garnet Trowell. She became pregnant by him, but soon parted from him, and made a hasty marriage to a respectable singing teacher, George Bowden (1877–1975), on 2 March 1909. She left him after the ceremony to take refuge with Ida. Hearing of the marriage, Mrs Beauchamp crossed the world to investigate, warning Ida's family about lesbianism and taking Kathleen straight off to a Bavarian spa, Bad Wörishofen. Here she abandoned Kathleen and returned to Wellington, where she disinherited her. Her father, however, continued to pay her allowance, and over the years increased it to £300 per annum.

Kathleen meanwhile had a miscarriage and acquired a Polish lover, Floryan Sobienowski. She was very short of money and only when Ida sent her the fare was she able to return to London. She was planning to join Sobienowski in Paris and marry him, once divorced; but early in 1910 she became seriously ill with the effects of untreated gonorrhoea. An operation left her unable to have children, with her health permanently undermined. Sobienowski was dropped.

'A writer first'

While in the spa Kathleen set down her impressions of it in a set of bold stories, some humorous and cynical, some with a strongly feminist slant. Her husband, whom she now saw again, introduced her to A. R. Orage, editor of the New Age, a fine radical weekly supported by Bernard Shaw. Orage was delighted with Kathleen, and her stories began to appear in the New Age, which led to the publication in 1911 of her first collection: In a German Pension, under the name Katherine Mansfield. One story, 'The Child-who-was-Tired', was an unacknowledged adaptation of a Chekhov story, an act of plagiarism which haunted her later; but the book was clever and original, and made its mark in the literary world.

Mansfield was leading a peripatetic life, borrowing flats from friends, sometimes sharing with Ida, sometimes staying with Orage, and involved with a series of male lovers. She was strikingly attractive, small and slender, her dark hair now cut short with a fringe. Her eyes, according to Virginia Woolf, were 'beautiful eyes—rather doglike, brown, very wide apart, with a steady slow rather faithful & sad expression. Her nose was sharp … Her lips thin & hard' (Diary of Virginia Woolf, 225–7). Others described her face as like a mask, and the painter Anne Estelle Rice, who became a close friend, noticed how she enjoyed changing her appearance dramatically from day to day. There was a Russian Mansfield, a Japanese one, a French one, and so on: she was a natural performer. She often spoke her stories to herself before she wrote them down, and said she would like to act them out before an audience as Dickens had done.

Soon after In a German Pension appeared Mansfield met John Middleton Murry (1889–1957), an Oxford undergraduate who was also running an avant-garde magazine, Rhythm. He became first her lodger in her flat in Clovelly Mansions in the Gray's Inn Road, London, then her lover, at which point he abandoned his formal studies and his Oxford scholarship. They called themselves 'the two tigers', and worked together as editors on Rhythm (later the Blue Review), living on her allowance and what small sums they could earn, and always on the move, in Sussex, in London, and in Paris. They ran up debts but they attracted exceptional talents, including D. H. Lawrence and the French artist Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. Rupert Brooke was asked for a poem, and introduced them to Edward Marsh, who gave them some financial support. On a trip to Paris, Murry introduced Mansfield to a minor French writer, Francis Carco, and she discovered and greatly admired the work of Colette. In 1913 Lawrence and Frieda Weekley returned to England, and the two unmarried couples became close friends. Their circle expanded to include the writer Gilbert Cannan, the painter Mark Gertler, and S. S. Koteliansky, a Ukrainian political exile whose affections became fixed on Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence.

After the outbreak of war in August 1914, first the Lawrences and then Murry and Mansfield established themselves in two uncomfortable cottages near Chesham in Buckinghamshire; they dined together twice a week, and Frieda found Mansfield 'gay and gallant and wonderful' (Memoirs and Correspondence, 425). Her reminiscences of New Zealand probably inspired Lawrence with the lesbian episode in The Rainbow (written in winter 1914–15), and she was certainly the model for Gudrun in Women in Love.

Mansfield was, however, doing little effective writing herself at this period, and she was dissatisfied with Murry. Early in 1915 she went to France and began a love affair with Carco, making a daring visit to him at the front which she described in 'An Indiscreet Journey'. She then borrowed his flat on the Quai aux Fleurs in Paris, and began to write the story that became Prelude. In May she was back in London, living with Murry again in Acacia Road, St John's Wood, helping to edit a new magazine, Signature, with Lawrence, and seeing her brother, Leslie, who had volunteered for the army. In October, when Leslie was killed accidentally while giving grenade instruction in France, she insisted on leaving for the south of France in her grief. January 1916 saw her installed with Murry in the Villa Pauline in Bandol: a short period of stability and happiness followed, as they worked side by side.

Then, summoned by the Lawrences, Murry and Mansfield joined them in Cornwall, at Higher Tregerthen, near Zennor, in an attempt at communal living. It was a failure. Mansfield wrote a memorable description of a quarrel between Lawrence and Frieda, and the quarrels extended to involve them all. Within weeks she and Murry moved on; but her loyalty to Lawrence remained, and later in the year she famously defended him in the Café Royal, where two undergraduates at another table were laughing at Lawrence's newly published poems. She went up to them, asked politely for the book, took it, and walked out into the street with it, leaving an admiring Gertler and Koteliansky to report the scene to Lawrence, who immediately wrote it into Women in Love.

During the summer of 1916 Mansfield invited herself to Garsington Manor, where Murry was already a frequent guest of the Morrells. She made a conquest of Lady Ottoline Morrell and friends of two women painters she met there, Dorothy Brett and (Dora) Carrington; later in the year she shared a house with them in London at 3 Gower Street. There was a flirtation with Bertrand Russell, and Lytton Strachey was impressed by her. Through him she met Virginia Woolf in 1917; the friendship was important to both aspiring writers, each of whom had so far published one book, and Virginia encouraged her to finish Prelude, which she was eager to publish with the Hogarth Press, the small publishing firm Woolf had just started with her husband Leonard. He also thought highly of Mansfield, describing her as 'a very serious writer' with the gifts of 'an intense realist, with a superb sense of ironic humour' (Autobiography of Leonard Woolf, 204). Both the Woolfs deplored the influence of Murry who encouraged her, they believed, in a 'sickly sentimentality', which does indeed spoil some of her work. There were tensions and jealousies between the two women, but Virginia Woolf entertained her and visited her, and in her diaries showed the value she placed on their meetings: 'to no one else can I talk in the same disembodied way about writing; without altering my thought more than I alter it in writing here' (Diary of Virginia Woolf, 45). Again, Woolf wrote that she got 'the queerest sense of an echo coming back to me from her mind the second after I've spoken' (ibid., 61).

Before Prelude could appear, Mansfield, currently sharing a studio flat in London with Ida at 141A Old Church Street, Kensington, became seriously ill again. In December 1917 tuberculosis was diagnosed, and she was told she must go south. She travelled alone through wartime France to Bandol in January 1918, and there she suffered her first haemorrhage. Like Lawrence, she would not consider treatment in a sanatorium. Part of her understood the seriousness of her condition, but another part sought to deny the reality of her illness altogether.

Ida Baker, by pleading with the authorities against the wartime prohibition on travel, managed to join Mansfield in France, only to find her insistent on returning to England in March. One reason for this was that her divorce from Bowden was about to come through, and she and Murry could be married. On the way the two women were trapped in Paris during a prolonged German bombardment, and when she arrived back in London at last she was so exhausted and emaciated that Murry was aghast, and fearful of catching tuberculosis himself; instead of embracing her, he turned aside and put a handkerchief to his lips. They were nevertheless married on 3 May 1918 at Kensington register office. Almost at once she developed pleurisy and had to go to Cornwall to recover. Murry took a house, 2 Portland Villas, overlooking Hampstead Heath, and Mansfield persuaded Ida to give up her job and become their housekeeper.

In October Mansfield was warned that she had only four years to live unless she went into a sanatorium. From now on her life was a series of increasingly desperate journeys between London, France, and Switzerland, while her condition grew steadily worse. The four summer months could be spent in Hampstead, then she had to leave England again. She resented Murry's absorption in his work as editor of The Athenaeum, and found the separations from him hard to bear. She also resented her dependence on Ida, who accompanied her when she went abroad; but it was Ida's care that allowed her to go on writing, and to produce some of her best work. This she acknowledged in the end, when she wrote to Ida, 'the truth is I can't really work unless I know you are there', and called her 'wife', in acknowledgement of the role she had played (Baker, 203).

Lawrence, also denying his tuberculosis, and penniless, was angry with Murry for refusing to print his work, and transferred the anger to Mansfield in a furious letter (now lost) early in 1920: 'You revolt me, stewing in your consumption' (Letters between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, 274). After an angry reply she forgave him, continued to think of him with affection to the end, and left him a book in her will.

Murry gave Mansfield work reviewing fiction for The Athenaeum, and he negotiated the publication of her second collection, Bliss and other Stories, with Constable, in December 1920. Her £40 advance was lost when Floryan Sobienowski blackmailed her with her old letters. Bliss was a success in both London and New York, and that winter she wrote 'The Daughters of the Late Colonel', praised by Thomas Hardy.

In May 1921 Mansfield and Ida moved to the Châlet des Sapins, high up in Montana-Sierre in Switzerland. Murry joined them and they lived quietly for six months, during which Mansfield wrote 'At the Bay', 'The Voyage', and 'The Garden Party' and began 'A Married Man's Story', a brilliant and sinister fragment (published in The Dial and The Dove's Nest). The publication of her third collection, The Garden Party and other Stories, in February 1922 brought her great and deserved acclaim. In the same month she decided to go to Paris, where a Russian doctor was offering a new treatment for tuberculosis by irradiating the spleen with X-rays. It was useless and unpleasant. 'If I were a proper martyr I should begin to have that awful smile that martyrs in the flames put on when they begin to sizzle', she wrote to Brett, but she persisted (Letters of Katherine Mansfield, 2.199). While she was in Paris she refused her agent Pinker permission for a reissue of In a German Pension, the most likely reason being her fear that the Chekhov plagiarism would be noticed.

Last years

In August 1921 Mansfield was in London without Murry, staying at Dorothy Brett's house at 6 Pond Street, Hampstead. She saw her father, who had been widowed and was remarried and about to be knighted, and Koteliansky, who urged her to work as a way of facing pain and suffering. Orage told her he was giving up his editorship in order to follow the teachings of Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian guru with a new establishment, Le Prieuré, financed by Lady Rothermere, at Fontainebleau, outside Paris. Gurdjieff preached that civilization had thrown the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of humanity out of balance; Orage was impressed, and so was Mansfield.

Mansfield knew that she was dying. About the time of her thirty-fourth birthday she wrote, 'My spirit is nearly dead. My spring of life is so starved that it's just not dry. Nearly all my improved health is pretence—acting' (Journal of Katherine Mansfield, 248). Still she set out her hope that she might yet live to enjoy 'a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music'—and life (ibid., 251). In spite of her growing reputation, she was dismissive of the stories she had written so far, and wanted to do better work.

In mid-October 1922 Ida accompanied Mansfield to Fontainebleau, only to have Mansfield send her away, for the last time. She had a few weeks to live, but started to learn Russian, since most of Gurdjieff's disciples were Russian speakers. At first she was given a comfortable room, then moved to one without a fire until her suffering was obvious and she was restored to the better room at Christmas. Gurdjieff allowed her to invite Murry to visit. He came on 9 January 1923 and found her 'very pale, but radiant' (Katherine Mansfield's Letters to John Middleton Murry, 700). That evening as she went up the stairs she began to cough, a haemorrhage started, she said 'I believe … I'm going to die', and within minutes she was dead (ibid., 701). On 12 January Mansfield was buried in the nearby cemetery at Avon, with Murry, Ida, Brett, and two of her sisters present. Murry inherited her manuscripts and over the next two decades he edited and published almost all her remaining stories and fragments, her journals, her poems, her reviews, and her letters. In doing so he presented to the world an image of a saintly young woman and suppressed the darker aspects of her character and experience, perhaps understandably, given the conventions of the time. He also made a good income out of her considerable royalties. Not a penny went to Ida Baker.

Mansfield's journal, with its vivid impressions of travel, of landscape and weather, gardens, and animals, and of her ever-fluctuating moods, has made her into a cult figure among young women especially. Her stories have found many distinguished admirers including, in addition to those already mentioned, Walter de la Mare, Elizabeth Bowen, V. S. Pritchett, Brigid Brophy, Christopher Isherwood, Angus Wilson, and Alice Munro. She is praised for her economy and speed in assembling and dissolving a scene; for her wit, and touch of the surreal; for her divination of the hatred and cruelties beneath the sweet surfaces of family life; and for her sympathy with the vulnerable, the displaced, and the lonely. She fails chiefly where she falls into sentimentality, and succeeds best when her touch is lightest. She has also had detractors—Aldous Huxley (who portrayed her as Gilray in Point Counter Point) was one—and even among her friends both Lawrence and Virginia Woolf regretted that so much inferior work was published by Murry. By the end of the twentieth century her reputation lagged far behind that of the more prolific Woolf, but it is still secure, and not only in English-speaking countries, for she is particularly admired in France and Germany.

For many years there was no likeness of Mansfield in the National Portrait Gallery (at the time of her death a rule forbade the acquisition of any portrait until ten years after the death of a subject). In 1932 Theodora Bosanquet offered the gallery a portrait painted by Anne Estelle Rice in Cornwall in 1918, and letters of support were sent to the trustees by, among others, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, G. K. Chesterton, Rose Macaulay, H. G. Wells, Rebecca West, Walter de la Mare, Edward Garnett, Winifred Holtby, Viola Meynell, and J. C. Squire. Despite this, and despite receiving expert advice that the portrait was a good one, the trustees rejected it and for many years took no further steps to acquire even a photograph (in 1940 the portrait was bought by the National Art Gallery of New Zealand). In 1999 a photograph of Katherine Mansfield was finally hung in the National Portrait Gallery.

Sources

  • C. Tomalin, Katherine Mansfield: a secret life (1987)
  • Journal of Katherine Mansfield, ed. J. M. Murry (1927)
  • The letters of Katherine Mansfield, ed. J. M. Murry, 2 vols. (1928)
  • Katherine Mansfield's letters to John Middleton Murry, 1913–1922, ed. J. M. Murry (1951)
  • Letters between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, ed. J. M. Murry and C. A. Hankin (1988)
  • The letters and journals of Katherine Mansfield: a selection, ed. C. K. Stead (1977)
  • The collected letters of Katherine Mansfield, ed. M. Scott and V. O'Sullivan (1984–)
  • K. Mansfield, MS notes transcribed by M. Scott, Turnbull Library Record (March 1970)
  • I. Gordon, The Urewera notebook (1980)
  • A. Alpers, Katherine Mansfield: a biography (1953)
  • H. Beauchamp, Reminiscences and recollections (1937)
  • I. Baker, Katherine Mansfield: the memories of L. M. (1971)
  • The diary of Virginia Woolf, ed. A. O. Bell and A. McNeillie, 2 (1978)
  • The memoirs and correspondence of Frieda Lawrence, ed. E. W. Tedlock (1961)
  • The autobiography of Leonard Woolf, 3 (1964)

Archives

  • NL NZ, Turnbull L., notebooks and letters to husband John Middleton Murry
  • NRA, corresp. and literary papers
  • Queen's College, London, notebooks and papers while a student at Queen's College, London
  • Ransom HRC, letters, literary MSS, photographs
  • University of Windsor, Ontario
  • BL, letters to Ida Constance Baker, Add. MS 49064
  • BL, letters to S. S. Koteliansky, Add. MSS 48969–48970
  • BL, letters to Elizabeth Russell, Add. MS 50844
  • BL, letters to Sydney and Violet Schiff, Add. MS 52919
  • CUL, letters to W. A. Gerhardie [mostly copies]
  • Hunt. L., letters to Mary Annette, Countess Russell
  • McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Ontario, letters to Bertrand Russell
  • NL NZ, Turnbull L., corresp. with John Galsworthy and William Gerhardi
  • U. Sussex Library, letters to Virginia Woolf

Likenesses

  • Adelphi Studios Ltd, half-plate glass copy negative, 1913 (copied by Emery Walker Ltd), NPG
  • O. Morrell, vintage snapshot print, 1916–17, NPG
  • J. H. Folker, vintage sepia matt postcard print, 1917, NPG
  • A. E. Rice, portrait, 1918, Museum of New Zealand / Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington
  • I. Baker, photograph, 1920, NL NZ, Turnbull L. [see illus.]

Wealth at Death

£266 6s. 4d.: probate, 5 April 1923, CGPLA Eng. & Wales