'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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10 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

Dearest Brett
   Summer has deserted us, too. Its cold and we are up [in] the clouds all day. Huge, white woolly fellows lie in the valley. There is nothing to be seen from the windows but a thick, soft whiteness. Its beautiful in its way. The sound of water is beautiful flowing through it and the shake of the cows bells.
   Yes, I know Utrillo's work from reproductions; M. has seen it. Its very sensitive and delicate. Id like to see some originals. What a horrible fate that he should be mad. Tragedy treads on the heels of those young French painters. Look at young Modigliani? - he had only just begun to find himself when he committed suicide. I think its partly that café life; its a curse as well as a blessing. I sat opposite a youthful poet in the filthy atmosphere of the L'Univers and he was hawking and spitting the whole evening. Finally after a glance at his mouchoir he said "Encore du sang. Il me faut 24 mouchoirs par jour. C'est le desespoir de ma femme!" Another young poet Jean Pillerinii (awfully good) died (but not during the evening !) making much the same kind of joke. Talking about ‘illness', my dear, I feel rather grim when I read of your wish to bustle me and make me run! Did it really seem to you people were always telling me to sit down? To me that was the fiercest running and the most tremendous bustling and I couldn't keep it up for any length of time. In fact as soon as I got here I wrote to the Mountain and asked her to come back and look after things as otherwise I'd never be able to get any work done. All my energy went in ‘bustling'. [To Dorothy Brett, 11 June 1922.]

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9 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

This is short hand & the result of weeks of thinking.
Ida
   If you are not finally fixed up for the summer - listen to me. Its no go. I am almost as ill as ever I was, in every way. I want you if you can come to me. But like this. We should have to deceive Jack. J. can never realise what I have to do. He helps me all he can but he can't help me really & the result is I spend all my energy - every bit - in keeping going. I have none left for work. All my work is behind hand & I cant do it. I simply stare at the sky. I am too tired even to think. What makes me tired? Getting up, seeing about everything, arranging everything, sparing him, and so on. That journey nearly killed me literally. He had no idea I suffered at all, and could not understand why I looked ‘so awful' & why everybody seemed to think I was terribly ill. Jack can never understand. That is obvious. Therefore if I can possibly possibly ask you to help me we should have to do it like this. It would have to come entirely from you. Ill draft a letter & send it on the chance. If you agree, write it to me. Its not wrong to do this. It is right. I have been wanting to for a long time. I feel I cannot live without you. But of course we'll have to try & live differently. Dear Ida, I can't promise - or rather I can only promise. If you cannot ‘honourably' accept what I say - let it be. I must make the suggestion; I must make a try for it.
Yours ever
K.M.
[To Ida Baker, 7June 1922.]

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8 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

But enough of this. I want to tell you what a perfect glimpse we had of the Chalet Soleil as we bumped here in the cold mountain rain. It was raining but the sun shone too, and all your lovely house is hidden in white blossom. Only heavenly blue shutters showed through. The little ‘working' chalet is in an absolute nest of green. It looked awfully fairy; one felt there ought to have been a star on top of the slender chimney. But from the very first glimpse of your own road everything breathed of you. It was like enchantment.
   We are alone in this big, very airy, silent hotel. The two ancient dames look after us and pursue me with ‘tisanes'. They are very anxious for me to try a poultice of mashed potatoes on my chest pour changer avec une feuille de moutarde. But so far I have managed to wave the pommes de terre away. Its peaceful beyond words after that odious, grilling Paris. John goes out for walks and comes back with marvellous flowers. He says there are whole fields of wood violets still, and carpets of anemones. We are both working but I feel dull and stupid as though I have been living on a diet of chimney pots. I never want to see a city again. [To Elizabeth, Countess Russell, 5 June 1922.]

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7 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

Dearest Elizabeth
   I have been waiting until we got here before I answered your last letter. Rather a disappointing thing has happened. I suppose my enthusiasm was too much for the Furies. At any rate I wish now I had waited before praising so loudly. For they have turned about their chariots and are here in full force again. It was ‘silly' to be so happy and to say so much about it; I feel ashamed of my last letter. But I felt every word of it at the time and more - much more. However, perhaps the truth is some peoplc live in cages and some are free. One had better accept one's cage and say no more about it. I can - I will. And I do think its simply unpardonable to bore one's friends with ‘I can't get out'. Your precious sympathy, most dear Elizabeth I shall never forget. It made that glimpse of the open air twice as marvellous. But here I am with dry pleurisy, coughing away, and so on and so on. Please don't think I feel tragic or despairing. I don't. Ainsi soit-il. What one cannot understand one must accept.
   My only trouble is John. He ought to divorce me, marry a really gay young healthy creature, have children and ask me to be godmother. He needs a wife beyond everything. I shall never be a wife and I feel such a fraud when he still believes that one day I shall turn into one. Poor John! Its hellish to live with a femme malade. But its also awfully hard to say to him ‘you know darling I shall never be any good'. To Elizabeth, Countess Russell, 5 June 1922.]

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6 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

Then at Randogne, after shinning up a hill to reach the little cart, a big black cloud saw us far off tore across and we'd scarcely started when down came the cold mountain rain. Big drops that clashed on one like pennies. It poured in sheets and torrents. We hadn't even a rug. The road which has only just been dug out & is like a river bed became a river, and for the most of the time we seemed to drive on two wheels. But it was heavenly, it didn't matter. It was so marvellously fresh and cool after Paris. A huge dog plunged after our cart & leapt into all the streams - a dog as big as - a big sofa. Its name was Lulu. When we arrived, sleek as cats with the wet, a little old grey woman ran out to meet us. There wasn't another soul to be seen. All was empty, chill and strange. She took us into two very bare plain rooms, smelling of pitch pine with big bunches of wild flowers on the tables, with no mirrors, little washbasins like tea basins, no armchairs, no nuffin. And she explained she had no servant even. There was only herself & her old sister who would look after us. I had such fever by this time that it all seemed like a dream. When the old 'un had gone Jack looked very sad. Oh, how I pitied him! I saw he had the awful foreboding that we must move on again. But I had the feeling that perhaps we had been living too soft lately. It was perhaps time to shed all those hot water taps and horrid false luxuries. So I said it reminded me of the kind of place Tchekhov would stay at in the country in Russia!
To Dorothy Brett, 5 June 1922.]

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5 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

My dearest Lamb,
   I must write to you before I begin work. I think of you so often and at this moment sitting on the balcony in THE sweater, which isn't a jot too warm but is perfect - so snug and soft - I feel as though my song of praise must reach you wherever you are.
   Aren't last moments of any kind awful? Those last feverish ones at the hotel - how detestable they were. And I kept thinking afterwards that perhaps, darling, you felt I shouted at you in the hall. I hope to Heaven you didn't. It is on my mind. I wasn't as careful as I should have been. Forgive me! And throw away those odious great parcels if they worry you. You can't think - you can't imagine how you helped me. How can I repay you? But Ill try and find out a way some day.
   We had an awful journey. The station was crammed with a seething mob. No porters - people carrying their own luggage. No couchettes after all - only a packed lst class carriage, coated in grime. It was Whitsun of course - Ive never taken Whitsun seriously before but now I know better. Poor dear M. left things in the rack, gave a 500 note instead of a 50, lost the registered luggage tickets...When we reached Sierre and that lovely clean hotel, smelling of roses and lime blossom we both fell fast asleep on a garden bench while waiting for lunch.[To Dorothy Brett, 5 June 1922.]

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4 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

However, wild horses wont drag me away from here for the next two months. I think we shall be able to get decent food. At any rate they have excellent eggs & good butter milk & their own vegetables. I felt inclined to cry when I saw how hard they had tried to impress us last night at supper with their cooking - even to a poor little boiled custard that floated airy fairy with little white threads in it.
   But at last it is peaceful. This balcony is perfect. And the air - after Paris - the peace, the outlook instead of that grimy wall. Cities are too detestable. I should never write anything if I lived in them. I feel base, and distracted. And all those dreadful parties. Oh how odious they are. How I hate the word ‘chic'. C'est plus chic, moins chic, pas chic, tres chic. French women haven't another note to sing on. And the heat! It was frightful. And the stale food. I had to give up my dentist at last until a more propitious moment. I couldn't stand it.
   Well, thats enough of Paris. I shant mention it again. Write to me when you get this. All my underclothes are in rags. Shall I ever have time to mend them. All the tops of my knickers are frayed & the seams of my ‘tops' are burst & my nightgowns are unsewn. What a fate! But it really doesn't matter when one looks at the sky & the grass shaking in the light. .
   What are you doing? What are your plans? How is Wing? How is ‘everybody'?
             Yours ever
                           K.M.
[To Ida Baker, 4 June 1922.]

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3 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

After a very powerful wash and an immaculate lunch - why do the glasses & spoons shine so? - I lay down & went to sleep & Jack went out. The next thing was: "La voiture est là Madame." Heavens! Nothing was packed. Jack had not come back. The bill was not paid and so on. I am quite out of the habit of these rushes. Finally we found Jack at the post office & just got to the station in time. Then at Randogne there was no room for our luggage in the cart. So we went off without it. (Last bulletin de bagage lost Jack simply prostrate) and we'd scarcely left the station when it began to pour with rain. Sheets, spouts of cold mountain rain. My mole coat & skirt was like a mole skin. We got soaked and the road which hasn't been remade yet after the winter was exactly like the bed of a river. But the comble was to get here & see these small pokey little rooms waiting us. We took the ground floors three as you said they were so BIG and so NICE. Good God! Whatever made you tell such bangers. They are small single rooms & really they looked quite dreadful. Also the woman told us she had no servants. She & her sister were alone to do everything. I thought at first we'd have to drive off again. But that was impossible. So I decided to accept it as a kind of picnic. "The kind of place R.L. Stevenson might have stayed at" or "some little hotel in Russia".
[To Ida Baker, 4 June 1922.]

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2 June 1922

Hotel d'Angleterre, Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland

My dear Ida,
   I am at last on the balcony overlooking the same mountains. Its hot with a small wind: grasshoppers are playing their tambourines & the church bells of old Montana are ringing. How we got here I shall never know! Every single thing went wrong. The laundry didn't come back in time. We were off late. Brett was laden with large parcels which we could not pack & which she promised to store for us - until when? And only when we got to the Gare de Lyons we remembered it was Whitsun. No porters. People wheeling their own luggage. Swarms & thousands of people. Fifteen thousand young gymnasts de Provence arriving & pouring through one. Poor Jack who had my money gave away a 500 note instead of a 50. And at last arrived at the Couchettes we found ordinary lst class carriage with 3 persons a side. No washing arrangements - nothing. It was the cursed Féte de Narcisse at Montreux yesterday so conducted parties crammed the train. What a night! And the grime! At Lausanne we both looked like negroes. Then came a further rush for the Sierre train (registered luggage tickets lost) & finally two hours late we arrived at the Belle Vue, starving, as we had no food with us & there was no food on the train. But that enchanted hotel was more exquisite than ever. The people so kind and gentle, the wavy branches outside the windows, a smell of roses and lime blossom. [To Ida Baker, 4 June 1922.]

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1 June 1922

Victoria Palace Hotel, Paris

Do you imagine I shall forget you in Switzerland, my dear precious friend?. . .When I come back here in August, after my next 10 séances I have decided to come to London for a week to see my doctor there & let him examine my lungs and so on for an "advertisement" for Manoukhin. It is the least I can do. Brett says I may have a room in her little house for this week. Let us meet then! But what I would like most of all would be if you would ask me to come to Acacia Road to that top room that used to be mine. To sit there and talk a little and smoke. How happy I should be!
   Its getting dark. How I love to watch the dark coming. Even a city is beautiful then. But I must get away from all this and work. I have a terrible amount to do. Do you dislike my work? I wonder very often. I wanted to send you The Garden Party and yet I felt it would seem arrogant of me. For there is so little in it which is worth reading. When I write a book as well as I possibly can I should send you a copy.
   However - it is foolishness to talk about my "work". One must simply go on quietly and hope to do better.
   It has been strange to see Brett. There is something very real and true in her. Her secret self is too deeply buried, though. I wish I could make her happier. I feel she has been ignored, passed by. No one has ever cherished her. This is sad.
   Goodnight.
   I press your hands
              Katherine.[To S. S. Koteliansky, 31 May 1922.]

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