Best known as a short story writer, Katherine Mansfield died in 1923 at the tragically early age of 34. Her life was a restless, itinerant one after she left her native New Zealand to attend school in London. Her wanderings never made her happy: nor did her liaisons either with men or women, and she was dogged by ill health. She, like her close friend D H Lawrence, finally succumbed to tuberculosis. Her best work was written in frenzied bursts in the last few years of her life: stories of the alienation between men and women, mothers and children - evocative, perceptive stories bubbling over with life. She objected to Frieda Lawrence pointing out obvious sexual imagery but her own stories use such imagery freely - especially one of her most well-known, "Bliss".
Claire Tomalin succeeds in painting a sympathetic portrait of a woman who many found hard to like in life, and shows us her vulnerable, alone side . When she was in the last throes of her illness, she wrote "One knows how easy it is to die. The barriers that are up for everybody else are down for you and you've only to slip through". And this was the woman who loved life, who wrote "I had a whole spring full of blue-bells one year with Lawrence. I shall never forget it...the shadows raced over the silky grass and the cuckoos sang".
At the end, she realised, and wrote - "I am a writer first". But it was too late, and by then the seeds of destruction were well grown.
A gifted life tragically cut short - whose epitaph could perhaps justly be: The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices make instruments to plague us.