'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 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

But after this long parenthesis let me come back to ‘Futility' one moment. Shall I tell you what I think you may have to guard against? You have a very keen, very delightful sense of humour. Just on one or two occasions (par exemple when you took Nina into a corner & slapped her hand to the amusement of the others) I think you give it too full a rein. I wonder if you feel what I mean? To me, that remark trembles towards - - a kind of smartness - a something too easy to be worth doing. I hope one day, we shall have a talk about this book. Let me once more wish it & you every possible success.
   Now for your photograph. Its so kind of you to have sent it to me. I am very happy to have it. When I possess a room with a mantelpiece again on the mantelpiece you will stand. Judging by it you look as though you were very musical. Are you? [To William Gerhardi, 10 July1922.]

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10 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

I am in the middle of a very long story written in the same style - horrible expression! - as The Daughters of the Late Colonel. I enjoy writing it so much that even after I am asleep - I go on. The scene is the South of France in early Spring. There is a real love story in it, too, and rain, buds, frogs, a thunderstorm, pink spotted chinese dragons. There is no happiness greater than this leading a double life. But its mysterious, too. How is it possible to be here in this remote, deserted hotel and at the same time to be leaning out of the window of the Villa Martin listening to the rain thrumming so gently on the leaves and smelling the night-scented stocks with Milly? (I shall be awfully disappointed if you don't like Milly.)
   Have you read Bunin's stories. They are published in English by the Hogarth Press. The Gentleman from San Fransisco is good, but I dont care much for the others. He tries too hard. He's too determined you shall not miss the cucumbers and the dyed whiskers. And the last story called Son I can't for the life of me understand. I met Bunin in Paris and because he ad known Tchekhov I wanted to talk of him. But alas! Bunin said "Tchekhov? Ah - Ah - oui, j'ai connu Tchekhov. Mais il y a longtemps, longtemps." And then a pause. And then, graciously, "ll a écrit des belles choses." And that was the end of Tchekhov. [To William Gerhardi, 10 July 1922.]

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10 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

Don't change, Mr Gerhardi. Go on writing like that. I mean with that freshness and warmth and suppleness, with that warm emotional tone and not that dreadful glaze of ‘intellectuality' which is like a curse upon so many English writers . . .And there's another thing. You sound so free in your writing . Perhaps that is as important as anything. I don't know why so many of our poor authors should be in chains, but there it is - a dreadful clanking sounds through their books, and they never can run away, never take a leap, never risk anything. . . In fact its high time we took up our pens and struck a blow for freedom. To begin with - what about Walpole? He is a ripe, fat victim. I agree with every word you say about him, his smugness is unbearable, his "Oh my Friends let us have Adventures" is simply the worst possible pretence. You see the truth is he hasn't a word to say. It is a tremendous adventure to him if the dog gets into the kitchen & licks a saucepan. Perhaps it is the Biggest Adventure of all to breathe ‘Good Night, dear Lady' as the Daughter of the County hands him his solid silver bedroom candlestick. All is show, all is made up, all is rooted in vanity. I am ashamed of going to the same school with him - but there you are. And he's Top Boy with over £7000 a year and America bowing to the earth to him. . . Its very painful. [To William Gerhardi, 10 July1922.]

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9 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

Dearest, would it be all the same to you if I fixed our rendezvous in Paris for August 23rd? If that is agreeable to you, I shall regard it as a definite arrangement, and shall be there, D.V., by the Wednesday morning, August 23rd. If, on the other hand, you prefer the former date, of course I shall keep to that. You may rely upon me not to make another change, or to suggest another. But the latter date would give me another week to finish up my work here - always supposing it suits you equally well.
   This morning I received two reviews from America, where my book was published recently by Knopf of New York. They may amuse you. So I send them along. I am glad the Americans appear to be taking to it.
   I have just finished a story with a canary for the hero, and almost feel I have lived in a cage and pecked a piece of chick weed myself. What a bother! [To Harold Beauchamp, 9 July1922.]

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8 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

Sierre is only 1700 feet high, which makes a great difference to my heart, too. If one had no work to do it would be a dull little place, for apart from the hotel there is nothing much to be said for it. But another great point in its favour is there is a farm attached, where the faithful old Swiss gardeners allow me to explore. This is all complete with cows, turkeys, poultry and a big rambling orchard that smells already of apples. The damson trees are the first I remember seeing since those at Karori. After all, a country life is hard to beat. It has more solid joys than any other that I can imagine. I thank heaven and my papa that I was not born a town child.
   l was much interested in the photograph of yourself taken with Andrew and John. It is not good enough of you, really. But it is a delightful record of your visit. John's likeness to Vera at that age is remarkable. He looks a very taking little chap - very sensitive. I should think Andrew was like Mack. They are both "getting big boys now, Eliza". Vera must be very proud of them.
   Yes, indeed, I too wish that I were taking a trip home with you. It would be a marvellous experience. The very look of a "steamer trunk" rouses the oId war horse in me. I feel inclined to paw the ground and smell the briny. But perhaps in ten years time, if I manage to keep above ground, I may be able to think seriously of such a treat. [To Harold Beauchamp, 9 July1922.]

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7 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

My dearest Father,
   I was greatly delighted and relieved to hear that your doctor reported favourably on your health. Thank you for letting me know so soon. I am sorry that my letter re Sorapure came too late. But should you ever feel inclined to consult another opinion I hope you will give him a trial. Cousin Sinner thought extremely high of him. And that is rare in doctors in that quarter of London. He is a Big Wig without the manners of one. Very much like dear little Frank Payne in that, whose appearance always reminded me of the man in Cole's Book Arcade Annual (do you remember it?) of whom it was said that "the birds of the air made a nest in his hair".
   What awfully bad luck you have had as regards weather! One can, at a pinch, put up with the English winter in the winter time, but in July it is a most horrid infliction. So disappointing for the girls too, and their garden. I do feel for them after the way they had looked forward to showing it to you in all its perfection.
   I found mountain conditions plus cold, mist and rain too much for me once more. And shifted to this small town, which is in the valley. Here I shall stay until I return to Paris. Jack has, however, remained up aloft and only comes down for week-ends.  [To Harold Beauchamp, 9 July1922.]

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6 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

Dearest,
   With one eye on the future - if you can possibly manage to write a short note to my Da it would I think be a good idea. He has seen a doctor who finds him "in fairly decent shape" - so you'd only have to say you were glad to hear that the Doctor reported favourably & hoped he'd be well in England . . . This is extremely boring. My pen won't write any more of it. If I didn't so wish for a chimley stack I'd never suggest it.
   Was yesterday nice, I wonder? Brett is very very chastening. God has sent her to me as a Trial. I shall fail. It serves him right. There are the most darling swallows here - little forked tails & wings like gold fins. And someone calls drowsily from a window "Fraulein Wirkel?" Then the soft sound of the gardener raking the paths . . . Summer.
               A bientot
                          Tig
Many thanks for the papers. I hate the N. & A. [Nation & Athenaeum] worse than ever. I despise it. The Lit. Sup. was bad too. There seems to be a positive blight on English writing. Really really nothing to say. Their review of Garnett made me realise again how first chop your criticism is.  [To J. M. Murry, 5 July 1922.]

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5 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

Have you read Lawrence's new book? I should like to very much. He is the only writer living whom I really profoundly care for. It seems to me whatever he writes, no matter how much one may ‘disagree' is important. And after all even what one objects to is a sign of life in him. He is a living man. There has been published lately an extremely bad collection of short stories - Georgian short stories. And ‘The Shadow in the Rose Garden' by Lawrence is among them. This story is perhaps one of the weakest he ever wrote. But it is so utterly different from all the rest that one reads it with joy. When he mentions gooseberries these are real red, ripe gooseberries that the gardener is rolling on a tray. When he bites into an apple it is a sharp, sweet, fresh apple from the growing tree. Why has one this longing that people shall be rooted in life. Nearly all people swing in with the tide and out with the tide again like heavy sea weed. And they seem to take a kind of pride in denying Life. But why? I cannot understand.
   But writing letters is unsatisfactory. If you were here we would talk or be silent - it would not matter which. We shall meet one day, perhaps soon, perhaps some years must pass first. Who shall say. To know you are there is enough. This is not really contradictory. [To S.S. Koteliansky, 4 July 1922.]

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4 July 1922

Hotel Chateau Belle Vue, Sierre, Switzerland

Dear Koteliansky
   I want to write to you before I begin work. I have been thinking of you ever since I woke up, thinking how much I should like to talk to you. Today for instance is such an opportunity. Brett is staying here for a week or so but she has gone up the mountains for the day. And I am the only guest left in this big, empty, dim hotel. It is awfully nice here, my dearest friend. It is full summer. The grasshoppers ring ring their tiny tambourines, and down below the gardener is raking the paths. Swallows are flying; two men with scythes over their shoulders are wading through the field opposite, lifting their knees as though they walked through a river. But above all it is solitary.
   I have been feeling lately a horrible sense of indifference; a very bad feeling. Neither hot nor cold; lukewarm, as the psalmist says. It is better to be dead than to feel like that; in fact it is a kind of death. And one is ashamed as a corpse would be ashamed to be unburied. I thought I would never write again. But now that I have come here and am living alone all seems so full of meaning again, and one longs only to be allowed to understand. [To S.S. Koteliansky, 4 July 1922.]

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3 July 1922

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

Has Cooks told you the day & hour of your arrival? Be sure to let me know, won't you! Perhaps a wire would be safest. For we have to order the cart in advance. Now as M. can only hop and I can't fly it will be the Mountain who will meet you at Sierre. Lean hard on her! Shes an awfully good person for those occasions and so gentle and capable. The country is looking marvellous. They are just beginning to cut the hay. You will have your choice of about 30 bedrooms but I shall have one prepared next door to Ida so you can knock on her wall if you want anything. There's such good honey here - dark like dark amber. I have a camera (rhymes with amber) & I intend to take ravishing photographs of you under the trees and among the calves. We really must make a little book of photographs to remember ourselves by.
   Be careful of yourself on the journey. Its no good. Anxious about you I always shall be when you are en voyage. Thank God theres no sea & I must say Swiss railways are the nicest I know. I mean the porters are fearfully nice - a band of brothers. But I shan't really be happy until I see you.  [To Dorothy Brett, 25 June 1922.]

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2 July 1922

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

To return to your Russianization for a moment. It seems to me that when Russians think they go through a different process from what we do. As far as one can gather they arrive at feeling by a process of. . . spiritual recapitulation. I don't think we do. What I imagine is we have less words but they are more vital; we need less. So though one can accept this recapitulating process from Russian writers it sounds strange to me coming from your pen. For instance, in Going Home you get in five lines: "enthusiasm, doubtful, mistrust, acute terror, anxious, joy, sadness, pain, final dissolution, filth and degradation." Or (p.2) "the unhappiness, the misery and cruelty, all the squalor & abnormal spiritual anguish." Again, last page but one of The Sister " futility, monotony, suffocated, pettiness, sordidness, vulgar minuteness." When one writes like that in English its as though the nerve of the feeling were gone. Do you know what I mean?
   I realise its all very well to say these things - but how are we going to convey these overtones, halftones, quarter tones, these hesitations, doubts, beginnings, if we go at them directly? It is most devilishly difficult, but I do believe that there is a way of doing it and thats by trying to get as near to the exact truth as possible. It's the truth we are after, no less (which, by the way, makes it so exciting). [To Arnold Gibbons, 24 June 1922.]

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1 July 1922

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

To return to your Russianization for a moment. It seems to me that when Russians think they go through a different process from what we do. As far as one can gather they arrive at feeling by a process of. . . spiritual recapitulation. I don't think we do. What I imagine is we have less words but they are more vital; we need less. So though one can accept this recapitulating process from Russian writers it sounds strange to me coming from your pen. For instance, in Going Home you get in five lines: "enthusiasm, doubtful, mistrust, acute terror, anxious, joy, sadness, pain, final dissolution, filth and degradation." Or (p.2) "the unhappiness, the misery and cruelty, all the squalor & abnormal spiritual anguish." Again, last page but one of The Sister " futility, monotony, suffocated, pettiness, sordidness, vulgar minuteness." When one writes like that in English its as though the nerve of the feeling were gone. Do you know what I mean?
   I realise its all very well to say these things - but how are we going to convey these overtones, halftones, quarter tones, these hesitations, doubts, beginnings, if we go at them directly? It is most devilishly difficult, but I do believe that there is a way of doing it and thats by trying to get as near to the exact truth as possible. It's the truth we are after, no less (which, by the way, makes it so exciting). [To Arnold Gibbons, 24 June 1922.]

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