Katherine mansfield Beauchamp was born in 1888 into a socially prominent family in Wellington, New Zealand. Her grandfather was Arthur Beauchamp, who briefly represented the Picton electorate in Parliament. She was brought up in colonial New Zealand, and, as a teen, her family moved to london. In london, she and some of her siblings attended Queen’s College in Harley Street, London, where she was rapidly immersed into british history.
There, Katharine found developed a passion for writing, in particular the works of Henrik Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Symons, Walter Pater and Ernest Dowson, all of whom had an influence in her work as a writer herself. There, she published a few small stories in the “Queens’ Collage Magazine”. While some, such as ‘The pine-tree, the sparrows and you and I’, showed her early interest in children’s writing, ‘Die Einsame’ explored the ideas of fulfilment in death, which became common themes in her earlier works. ‘About Pat’, based on her memories of Karori, where she grew up, demonstrated the vivid sense of childhood experiences that would characterise her later work.
Katherine mansfield was recognised a writer by one of her high school teachers, in wellington, who described her as ‘a surly sort of girl’ who was ‘imaginative to the point of untruth’. She thought of herself as a rebel and this was reflected in some of her grades, which were not very hopeful, to say the least.
In december of 1906, she and her family returned to new zealand. There, she seemed to fit back in as her usual, if a little older self, but her notes for an autobiographical novel deplored the futility of her existence: ‘the days full of perpetual Society functions – the hours full of clothes discussions – the waste of life…. The days, weeks, months, years of it all.’ She desperately wanted to be allowed to return to London – ‘it is Life’ – and write. She poured out her longing and desperation for new experiences in long diaries complaining about pretty much everything.
In july of 1908, she returned to england in search of new experiences, and in a way found them, selling her chello, falling in love with Arnold Trowell’s twin brother, Garnet, then inexplicably married George Charles Bowden, a singing teacher, then had an alarmed mother cut her out of her will.
In 1910-11 she published a few stories based on her experiences mentioned earlier, and slowly began building an plethora of known stories as a writer. Sadly, also around this time, she fell ill to the illness that ultimately ended her life. She suffered from bouts of pleurisy, and increasingly felt the effects of a long-term infection.
In December 1911 she met John Middleton Murry, editor of the journal Rhythm and a student at Oxford. Although they were not to marry for another seven years, they were deeply committed to each other from this time. The next two years were important for Mansfield’s growth as a writer – she published several stories with New Zealand themes – but there were constant financial worries and frequent changes of address. Together the couple edited Rhythm, and its successor, the Blue Review, but they failed to prevent John Middleton Murry’s bankruptcy which succeeded their stay in Paris at the end of 1913.
Mansfield moved again in May 1921 to Switzerland, where she was joined by Murry, who had given up the editorship of the Athenaeum, his next journal series to be with her. At the Chalet des Sapins, Montana-sur-Sierre, she wrote some of the most famous New Zealand stories: ‘At the bay’, ‘The garden party’ and ‘The doll’s house’. The first two were published in The garden party and other stories in February 1922.
Traveling back to Switzerland, she completed her last story, ‘The canary’, set in New Zealand. Then she went briefly to London in August 1922 for what were to be final meetings with her father and friends. In spite of the inset of her tuberculosis, Mansfield planned another series of 12 connected stories which would form the core in a new book, the third part of the story that had begun with ‘Prelude’ and was continued in ‘At the bay’. This scheme was sadly never realised.
All in all, Katherine mansfield posthumously became easily the best and most popular new zealand writer, going down in the history books as one of the greatest writers of new zealand history.