on 9 July 2006
CK Stead has, more than anyone,in other works helped us to understand the life of Katherine Mansfield and, more than that, to understand the times she lived in and the people she knew. He writes beautifully about the Great War and with deeply compassionate insight into KM's wilful,inventive character and intelligence. I loved the scenes with the Lawrences, already vividly told elsewhere by Stead, by Claire Tomalin ('Katherine Mansfield - A Secret Life') and in KM's own journals and letters. KM was extraordinary in every way: courageous, outrageous, extremely funny and of course wonderfully talented. My only reservation is that the story ends rather abruptly and there is a need to know about her illness and her death, recounted so movingly in his biography, 'The Life of Katherine Mansfield.'
on 1 March 2005
`What a funny place this is?' says one of the Bloomsbury Group's hangers-on to Katherine Mansfield (nee Kathleen Beauchamp, and one of the foremost modernist writers of her time). `Such brilliant people saying such silly things.''
This comment just about sums up - not this superbly punctilious portrayal of Katherine Mansfield's creative years by fellow New Zealander and Mansfield scholar, C K Stead - but the quite risible, overweening inconsequentiality of a group of writers who, like the Algonquin Round Table in a different time and place, were so utterly convinced that the sun shone out of their art.
Various members of the group are sighted here together with assorted camp-followers: Virginia Woolf, D H Lawrence, Lady Ottline Morell (on whom he based the man-eating Lady Chatterley), Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, J M Keynes - and that other `bugger' (as the aforementioned hanger-on so describes him) the insufferably bitchy Lytton Strachey . . . every one of them housepartying for England while the world goes to hell in a handcart.
`Last night . . .' trills the same silly also-ran, `. . . we(took) a vote on whether the moon was a virgin or a harlot.'
Ah! time for Miss Mansfield to prove her mettle, I thought: because I really rate a lot of her stuff. How's she going to handle this latest bit of silliness.
Oh, dear! I was to be quickly disappointed. `How did it come out?' says she.
Plus points: there are some wonderful set pieces here - D H Lawrence and his wife Frieda having a domestic spat in the course of which they reveal themselves to be just as vain and childishly pathetic as lesser mortals having a domestic spat; and an achingly graphic depiction of the violent death in action during WWI of Katherine's beloved brother Leslie, and of Fred Goodyear being mortally wounded.
Kathleen Mansfield can write like an angel when the fancy takes her, and when a quite different fancy takes her, behaves like a tramp. Consequently her lover of long-standing, John Middleton Murry, leads a veritable dog's life.
Leslie Beauchamp and Fred Goodyear apart, the men of Katherine Mansfield's acquaintance are all principled pacifists, the principle in question being that they are doggedly determined to dodge the draft. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of her women friends are ninnies in need of assistance to boil an egg or run a hot bath. In fairness, though, it must be said that Katherine Mansfield isn't one of these, but she does seem to have developed a brand of existentialism for her own personal use: `I can,' you can almost hear her thinking, `therefore I will.'
And may the devil take the hindmost, which means, of course, poor, long-suffering, affable, almost totally ineffectual John Middleton Murry, who is unlucky enough to be Katherine Mansfield's artistic and intellectual inferior - and saddled with her.