'Katherine Mansfield Today' Blog

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What was KM thinking and writing 90 years ago today? The ‘KM blog’ posts daily extracts of her letters and notebooks written almost 90 years ago...
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11 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Dearest Brett
   I was v. glad to hear from you though you sounded rather ‘distracted'. Who is Valentine? And if she interferes with your painting why is she there? And why should not intellectuals love? What a queer idea! Whose is it? As for the Bloomsburys I never give them a thought. Do they still exist. They are rather pathetic in their way, but bad people to think about or consider - a bad influence. And what have I to guard against? It sounds very frightening. As to my being humble - oh dear. Thats between me and my God. I should retire behind 500 fans if anyone ever told me to be humble! You don't imagine that reviews and letters and requests for photographs and so on make me proud - do you? Its a deep deep joy to know one gives pleasure to others but to be told that increases ones store of love not pride. Also what has it got to do with ones work? I know what I have done and what I must do, nothing and nobody can change that.
   A whiff of London came from the last pages of your letter - a whiff of years and years ago, a kind of ashy feeling. Oh, I shall never go back to England again except en passant. Anywhere anywhere but England! As I write theres a sound of sweet scolding from the pigeons outside. Now it rains, now its sunny. The March lion is chasing the March lamb but not very seriously - the lamb doesn't mind much. They have an understanding. I was reading La Fontaine's Fables in bed early. Do you know them? They are fearfully nice - too nice for words. What a character the ant is - a little drop of bitterness and fury and slamming her door in everyone's face; and the frog - I am so sorry for him. He had a sister, too, she should have warned him. Instead she stood by and gloated. La Fontaine must have been an adorable man - a kind of Fabre, very distrait very amorous. He didn't even know his own children. He forgot their faces and passed them by in the street. I don't expect they cared. [To Dorothy Brett, 9 March 1922.]

About the clothes. I am afraid my bundle would not do for a jumble sale. Old combinations, knickers etc could never be displayed before the curate. You cant have a jumble sale without a curate. If the A. [Aylesbury] girls really do want a large unwieldy parcel about the size of a large pillow they are thrice welcome. But warn them - really warn them! And wouldn't they perhaps bring that blue slip & post it in Paris? It would get here more quickly. My shawl mustn't go through the post unless necessary. Its too valuable. Perhaps later on someone whom you know would deliver ithere. . . The slip is just what I want, thank you. I wear it outside with my blue serge marine coat and skirt.
Tell me: Does E. still want her character? I must send it. Is she happy? Do you need money? Please reply to these questions.
   Yes, I sent you a card the day before I wrote to you last about the keys of I my boxes. I suppose it went astray. I feel letters must have gone astray from that end, too. But perhaps not.
   This letter which I send from J. speaks for itself. I had a terrific adventure with her dipilatory. It certainly does remove hair. It would remove anything - I think it is gunpowder. However I shall try again. I had an afternoon when I thought I was disfigured for life and should have to paint my whole face navy blue to match my upper lip. Its awful stuff to get off What a curious, secret life one does lead to be sure! [To Ida Baker, 11 March 1922.]

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10 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Yes, large towns are the absolute devil! Oh, how glad I shall be to get away. The difficulty to work is really appaling. One gets no distraction. By distraction I mean the sky and the grass and trees & little birds. I absolutely pine for the country (not English). I could kiss the grass. Its true there is a jampot & a jug in my room full of small daffodils. But exquisite though they are they keep on making me wonder where they grow. Its wickedness to live among stones and chimneys. I keep on thinking of lying under a tree in some well hidden place (alive not dead.) But this is not a complaint. It may have the ghost of a moral in it, a "dont settle in a town whatever you do". But I don't think you will. Do let me see Olive's letter.
   I hope your 3 girls turn up & not the family. I wish you could stay up there for a bit if you like it. It seems to me right for the moment. You felt the place suited you spiritually when you just got to know it & that was the right feeling, I believe. I wonder if the Palace would be tolerable? Another small barbed thrust "I saw you in the Palace mood. . . " I don't care. I do think it might be very interesting. Hudson is an extraordinary decent man - really he is. I have had quite remarkably simple nice letters from him here. He may be stupid but all doctors are that. And I always rather took to that matron. However - its a long way off Wingley I presume would be a kind of Red Cross scout. Which reminds me. After I had unpacked the boxes I had all the symptoms of terrific bites. They have gone off this morning. But I was certain last night that Wing had carefully put in a flea for a surprise for me. Have you ever found one of the biters? Are they fleas or what?
[To Ida Baker, 7 March 1922.]

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9 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Told you your shares are now 32/6.
Tuesday. Warm, thundery weather.
Is your red dress a success?
My dear Ida
   Thats the kind of letter for me! Now keep that in mind as your ideal, ‘focus' on it and Ill never be cross again. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to know what you are doing and that you are happy doing it. Thats the important thing. At four oclock this morning I had decided to write to you again and really tell you what I thought of you for keeping me for so long without any detailed news. Nothing but chauffage and money! When I wanted to know what you were doing, thinking, feeling. However, this is a noble effort and so I say no more Betsy.
   Alas for the Distressed Gentlewomen. How can I get this vast parcil across? I shall have to write to the English clergyman in Paris if I can find his address somehow. But there is so much that they (the poor) would call fancy dress - little jackets and so on. As to woven combinations (the very height of fancy dress) I seem to have collected the things or they have bred. They are my horror and my box was stuffed with them like peas in a pod. Away they must go. All my things looked rather as though they had been washed through the customs - they are very much exhausted. But even a change is such a relief that I fully expect a low hiss of admiration when I go to lunch today in different shoes. I suppose your Miss Yates would not know of a worthy charity in Paris that would call for a bundle? Is it worth asking?
[To Ida Baker, 7 March 1922.]

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8 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Most dear Elizabeth,
   Your letter about my Garden-Party was almost ‘too good to be true'. I could not believe it; I kept taking peeps at it all day. I know of course you are far too generous to me. But oh, dear Elizabeth how you make me long to deserve your praise. My stories aren't half good enough yet; I shall try with all my heart to make the next book better.
   Its rather hard to work just now. I am at the moment when one feels the reaction. After five doses of Xrays one is hotted up inside like a furnace and one's very bones seem to be melting. I suppose this is the moment when real martyrs break into song but I can think of nothing but fern grots, cucumbers and fans, and they won't mix in a story. However this stage does not last.
   I am glad you are going back to England - to spring. There is new green on some of the trees already and even those that are still bare have a hazy, thoughtful look. John brought me a bunch of daffodils yesterday, the little half wild kind that smell sweet - far lovelier than the others, I always think. Garden daffodils are so plump and self-contained, rather like ducks. I feel I shall never look at a bud or a flower again without thinking of you, and that there is an extra reason for saying - as one does - Praise Him - as one smells the petunias. I still ‘in vacant or in pensive mood' go over those bunches you brought last summer - disentangle the sweet peas, marvel at the stickiness of the petunia leaves, come upon a sprig of very blithe carnations and shiver at the almost unearthly freshness of the nasturtiums. What joy it is that these things cannot be taken away from us. Time seems to make them fairer than ever. [To Elizabeth, Countess Russell, 6 March 1922.]

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7 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

It's a joy to know that The Garden Party has given you pleasure and especially that you like my poor old girls, the ‘Daughters'. I shall never forget lying on that wretched little sofa in Mentone writing that story. I couldn't stop. I wrote it all day and on my way back to bed sat down on the stairs and began scribbling the bit about the meringues.
  But your beautiful letter is too generous. I can't pretend praise isn't awfully nice! And especially as I have not heard one word from anyone whom I know personally since the book appeared. Reviews there have been and a few notes from strangers. But that's not at all the same. I didn't expect to hear and yet my ‘subconscious mind' has been intensely interested in whether there are any letters or not! I don't think it's bad pride that makes one feel like that. It's the "You feel that too? You know what I was trying to say," feeling which will be with me while life lasts. Or so I feel. I treasure your letter, even though my Garden Party doesn't deserve it.
  Brett sent me a couple of pages from Vogue with reproductions of Gertler's paintings.
  I cannot say what is happening. I believe - just blindly believe. After all illness is so utterly mysterious that I don't see why one shouldn't recover as mysteriously. I have a sneaking feeling all the time that Coué is really the man and Coue would only charge 3d where this man squeezes three hundred francs a time out of me. Happily I have saved £100 so I can pay. But if it is all my eye at the end I shall look awfully silly and dear knows what will happen. But anything, anything to be out of the trap - to escape, to be free. [To Ottoline Morrell, 4 March 1922.]

If this treatment is a success we shall spend the summer in Germany, in some small place. Richard I couldn't live in a city again, or I feel I could not. There seems no point in it. As for meeting people and so on Id rather see them just now and again, rarely, in intervals of work. Parties, and literary society - I flee from the very idea. And it seems to me one cant write anything worth the name unless one lives - really lives. Talk and all that kind of thing is a kind of frittering away. Perhaps that is old age. But the whole secret of doing anything is to gather oneself together and to live in a way that makes that as easy as it can be made. I don't see how it is to be done without solitude and a simple way of living. Do you agree? Tell me if you think its the beginning of my grey hairs.
   Jack is very well. I think the change is really deep in Jack since he left London. He really is happier. If you come over I like to think of you both trundling off to look at pictures together.
   I ought not to be writing this letter. I have a brain like a sawdust this afternoon. But I wanted to just greet you - just wave as you go on your way. Give my love to Mother. Forgive my dullness.
   I press your hand
                Katherine.  [To Richard Murry, 3 March 1922.]

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6 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Dear Michael Sadleir,
   I enclose this letter from the Sketch. By the same post I received one from the literary editor of The Nation saying that he had been sent no review copy but had had to telephone specially for it. This is indeed worrying especially in the case of two papers which, it stood to reason, would give the book a ‘show'. And there is a Miss Evans, London Correspondent of the New Zealand Associated Press, 85 Fleet St E.C.4 who has written to me asking for a review copy. I think it would be of the greatest advantage to the book to let her have one.
              Yours ever
            Katherine Mansfield,
I think its very important that the weekly illustrated papers like The Sphere, The Tatler, Vogue etc. should have prompt review copies of my book. I fancy they do more good to the sales than any others. They gave me such long reviews last time.
[To Michael Sadleir, 1 March 1922.]

Richard
   I wrote to you a few days ago and now I cant remember if I sent that letter or if it disappeared. This is very bad. In case it didn't go I shall send this note for I am thinking of you. I wish you could see the marigolds on our table. They are like little stars in their own firmament - Jack bought them. They are good flowers to buy. Remember them when you set up house. They last well and are always so full of life. There is also, little painter brother, a fine sky this afternoon - big rolling clouds. In fact its spring here - and has been for days. Its quite warm. Once February is over there is no stopping it. All the same it seems almost too good to be true. I hardly dare to look ahead and think of what is in store for all of us. And I always have the feeling that there may have been other springs but wait till you see this one. Think of lying under a tree again or paddling in a sunny river or just feeling the air is enough.
   Its nice here. It would be splendid if you managed to come across at Easter time. Jack and I seem to have settled down very easily. We have two good rooms and a bathroom at the end of a corridor down a little passage of our own. And its as private as if we were in a flat. We work, play chess, read, Jack goes out, we make our own tea and work again. . . and its all easy and pleasant. [To Richard Murry, 3 March 1922.]

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5 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Dear Ida
Your Ash Wednesday letter is rather ashy. I confess it makes me feel impatient. Will you in reply to this speak out. Say exactly what you want. I can't tell. I must know.
(1) We can afford £2.10.0 to £3 a week quite well. I would greatly prefer the chalet not to be left. If it costs a little more it would be far better than leaving the keys with anyone.
(2) No. While you are there please keep Ernestine. That is final. So for heaven's sake don't go on about it. Rubbish! I must say it all sounds dreadfully ineffectual and vague & foolish. If a pensionnaire did ‘turn up' as you say what about your servant? You must have one. In any case theres no need for E. to go. And no earthly need to work miracles at keeping down the chauffage. Ugh! I think its extremely ungracious about the cheque. However, if you feel like that you must act like that. Its not good or right or splendid. If you had said: ‘How nice to get the cheque. I shall have a small spree on the spot.' I should have been delighted and warmed. As it is I dont feel at all warmed! Please take things a little more lightly. There is no need to go on ‘worrying'. This is what happens when you burrow undergound & suggest and think and so on. Why? Its so unworthy! Please just say out what you mean. You know what I think now and its final. I cant write every day about it.
And I am sorry I can't send the reviews. I must keep them at present in case I need them for America. I shall not throw them away however & later on if you care to see them I will send them to you then. If I get duplicates you shall have them.
But cheer up.
              Yours ever
                         K.M.
Did you know Captain Bernhard at the Palace is dead of influenza?
[To Ida Baker, 3 March 1922.]

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4 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

I had 2 letters today from Father enclosing letters from my cousins who live down the Sounds - all about hay and crops as high as the fences and perfect tirades about the spots on butterflies' wings and the colour of foxgloves. One of these letters was from a woman who has nine children - my uncle Stanleys wife. The other from a woman who has about £150 a year all told to live on with her husband. Such people are the salt of the earth. The longer I live the more I realise that any life but a life remote, self-sufficient, simple, eager, and joyful, is not worth living. Cities are ashes. And people know it. They want the other thing; they feel their own ‘poverty' in their several ways. It is sad. However the only way to help others is to live a good life oneself Its a roundabout way but I see no other. But these Beauchamps down the Sounds are right. They are inheriting the earth. How I wish I could drive off in a little spring cart & have tea and scones with them & hear about Norman and Betty and Jess and the rest. I hope your May doesn't go in for town life and trying to be a social success in Bulawayo. I hope Roger gets a real chance. Youll have to gallop off there one day and look after him if you love him. Dont you feel that?
This is just a little chat with you. Now I must work. I have masses to do.
Keep well!
              Yours ever
                 K.M.[To Ida Baker, 2 March 1922.]

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3 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

By the way do you remember the brown china bear on the top of the black what-not? I can see it! And I happened to read in the Daily News the other day that the "latest fashion" was a china mustard pot - very chic in the shape of a tomato. This was one of Aunt Kittys wedding presents at Clifton Terrace. So wags the world. I expect all her mustard pots have been sterling silver long ere now not only with the lion on them, but shaped into roaring lions with their tails for spoons. Oh dear, having got so far I do wish I could go further and find myself with you two clears, in your own home. I hope your weather has improved. It is still warm here. All the puddings have changed into little ices in frills and I was quite glad of the electric fan playing on my fried whiting at lunch! We shall have very special tea parties when you come in May. Jack has discovered a marvellous shop for cakes. Not those fat Jewish cakes with a bird's nest in icing on the top and a chocolate bird sitting on plaster of Paris eggs but short crisp delicious tiny ones - all kinds, little whiffs. These with his pate de foie sandwiches are a tea for the Duchess of Devonshire. But I keep on planning what we shall do in May. I am so glad this hotel is so good. You and J. can have a very large double room with your private bathroom etc. for 25 francs a day. A most sumptuous bathroom and ones own little hall door shutting one off from the outside world. Such a point in an hotel. I do hate the feeling that everybody is running past ones very toes as one lies in bed. I am sure you will love Paris. It is a beautiful city. So airy, on such a noble scale. [To Charlotte Beauchamp Perkins and Jeanne Beauchamp Renshaw, 1 March 1922.]

Send this cutting back - will you. I thought you might care to see the kind of thing they are saying.
My dear ida
   Your Saturday-Sunday letter gives me the impression that you are unhappy and restless. Is that so? Tell me! What do you do now. I suppose I hope and trust the ‘settling' of the chalet is over. All is in order? And Ernestine capable of doing all that is to be done. Do you see your girls? Do you find people to talk to? How do you spend your days. I should be very interested to know. Dont focus on Wingley, tho' he is a nice cat. You have books in plenty and wool. But books & wool don't make life. I don't want you to feel stranded up there - cast away. ‘At any rate' here is March. If you feel you can't stick it just take someone until the chaffauge is no longer necessary and then shut all up. If it must be so - it must. All is well here. I have lovely marigolds on my table. Flowers are cheap now. Reviews of my new book are pouring in. They are extremely favourable so far - much more so than Bliss. This is indeed surprising. I have not sent you a copy because I have not got one to send. The second ‘batch' has never turned up. [To Ida Baker, 2 March 1922.]

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2 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Darling Marie & Jeanne,
   Will you accept a double letter this time? I can't tell you how I appreciated yours. Praise from other people is all very well but it is nothing compared to ones family. And you always have believed in me so generously Marie that I am more than glad I have repaid a little of thatbelief. It is only a little - a drop in the ocean. Ive got an awfully long way to go before I write a book that counts. I marvel at the kindness of the papers. But I expect some are saving up to give me a whacking.
   So old V. [Vera] has gone back to Canada. I wonder if I shall see her and her boys. She feels further away from me now that she has been over here and we have not met. Has she changed much? But thats hard for you to say for you have been seeing her during these years; we haven't met since John was new-born. Elizabeth says Mack is very prosperous. I always thought he would be. I hope V. has her share of it - I mean takes her share. She always erred on the too generous side.
   Your crocus border fills me with envy. How I love them! Its strange we should all of us Beauchamps have this passion for flowers. I shall never forget the large glass vase of sweet peas in my bedroom at Woodhay when I spent that weekend with you nor the easter lilies in the drawing-room. They sit in my mind, fresh and lovely for ever. At the moment I have a large bunch of the good old fashioned marigolds on my table, buds, leaves and all. They take me back to that black vase of ours at 752, one that you used to like to put mignonette in. It was a charming vase and well in the van of fashion, wasn't it.  [To Charlotte Beauchamp Perkins and Jeanne Beauchamp Renshaw, 1 March 1922.]

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1 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Dearest Marie
   ln case you should think I am rather a little pig of a sneak not to send you a copy of my new book - its because I can't get copies over here for the moment - I mean extra copies. All I have had I have been obliged to send to journalists. Thats why.
   Would you pass this first review on to Pa? It sounds very powerful, doesn't it. But it is rather my eye. I thought people would say I was rather sentimental!
   What is the weather like in England. Here it is Spring - really Spring, sunny, absolutely warm and the kind of weather that makes one long to put out new leaves at any rate one new leaf in the shape of a hat. Don't you know that mood when you keep on imaging spring hats - curled and crisp and light after these substantial winter ones?
   Forgive writing. I am in bed & my back has no backbone. I feel so much better - its almost frightening. Tell J. not to forget me. 
   Ever your devoted
                         K. [To Charlotte Beauchamp Perkins, late February 1922.]

But for the last four-five years I have been ill and have lived either in the S. of France or in a remote little chalet in Switzerland - always remote, always cut off, seeing hardly anybody, for months seeing really nobody except my husband and our servant and the cat and "the people who come to the back door". Its only in those years Ive really been able to work and always my thoughts and feelings go back to New Zealand - rediscovering it, finding beauty in it, re-living it. Its about my Aunt Fan who lived up the road I really want to write, and the man who sold goldfinches, and about a wet night on the wharf, and Tarana Street in the Spring. Really, I am sure it does a writer no good to be transplanted - it does harm. One reaps the glittering top of the field but there are no sheaves to bind. And there's something, disintegrating, false, agitating in that literary life. Its petty and stupid like a fashion. I think the only way to live as a writer is to draw upon one's real familiar life - to find the treasure in that as Olive Schreiner did. Our secret life, the life we return to over and over again, the "do you remember" life is always the past. And the curious thing is that if we describe this which seems to us so intensely personal, other people take it to themselves and understand it as if it were their own. [To Sarah Gertrude Millin, early March 1922.]

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1 March 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Does this sound as though Im dogmatising? I don't mean to be. But if you knew the numbers of writers who have begun full of promise and who have succumbed to London! My husband and I are determined never to live in cities, always to live ‘remote' - to have our own life - where making jam and discovering a new bird and sitting on the stairs and growing the flowers we like best is - are - just as important as a new book. If one lives in literary society (I dont know why it is so but it is) it means giving up one's peace of mind, one's leisure - the best of life.
But Im writing as if to beg you to unpack your trunk, as if you were on the very point of leaving South Africa tomorrow. And that's absurd. But I am so awfully glad you have Africa to draw upon.
I am writing this letter in Paris where we are staying at [i.e.till] May. I am trying a new Xray treatment which is supposed to be very good for lungs. Its early spring, weather very lovely and gentle, the chestnut trees in bud, the hawthorn coming into flower in the Luxembourg Gardens. I can't go out, except to the clinic once a week but my husband is a very faithful messenger, He reports on it all for me, and goes to the Luxembourg Gardens every afternoon. We work hard - we are both very busy - and read a great deal. And both of us are longing to be back in the country. If this treatment succeeds at all we'll be gone in May. But its hard to write in a hotel. I can only do short things and think out long stories. Do you have anemones in South Africa. I have a big bowl of such beauties in this room. I should like to put them into my letter, especially the blue ones and a very lovely pearly white kind -  [To Sarah Gertrude Millin, early March 1922.]

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