'Katherine Mansfield Today' Blog

The KM Today Blog has only been made possible thanks to the very generous funding of the Southern Trust, to whom the Katherine Mansfield Society extends its grateful thanks.

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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21 October 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dear darling Bogey,
I have been through a little revolution since my last letter. I suddenly made up my mind (for it was sudden, at the last) to try and learn to live by what I believed in, no less, and not as in all my life up till now to live one way and think another. I don't mean superficially of course, but in the deepest sense Ive always been disunited. And this, which has been my ‘secret sorrow' for years has become everything to me just now. I really cant go on pretending to be one person and being another any more, Boge. It is a living death. So I have decided to make a clean sweep of all that was ‘superficial' in my past life and start again to see if I can get into that real living simple truthful full life I dream of I have been through a horrible deadly time coming to this. You know the kind of time. It doesn't show much, outwardly, but one is simply chaos within!
So - my first Leap into the Dark was when I came here and decided to ask Mr Gurdjieff if he would let me stay for a time. ‘Here', is a very beautiful old chateau in glorious grounds. It was a Carmelite monastery then one of Madame de Maintenons ‘seats'. Now it is modernised inside I mean chauifage centrale, electric light and so on. But its a most wonderful old place in an amazing lovely park. About 40 people, chiefly Russians, are here working, at every possible kind of thing. I mean, outdoor work, looking after animals, gardening, indoor work, music, dancing - it seems a bit of everything. Here the philosophy of the ‘system' takes second place. Practice is first. [To J. M. Murry, 21 October 1922.]

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20 October 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

The world as I know it is no joy to me and I am useless in it. People are almost nonexistent. This world to me is a dream and the people in it are sleepers. I have known just instances of waking but that is all. I want to find a world in which these instances are united. Shall I succeed? I do not know. I scarcely care. What is important is to try & learn to live - really live, and in relation to everything - not isolated (this isolation is death to me).
Does this sound fabulous? I cannot help it. I have to let you know for you mean much to me. I know you will never listen to whatever foolish things other people may say about me. Those other helpless people going round in their little whirlpool do not matter a straw to me.
I will send you my address this week. In the meantime all is forwarded from the Select Hotel by Ida Baker, with whom I must part company for a time.
I press your hands, dear dear friend
Katherine.
All this sounds much too serious and dramatic. As a matter of fact there is absolutely no tragedy in it, of course. [To S. S. Koteliansky, 19 October 1922.]

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19 October 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dear Koteliansky
I hope this letter will not surprise you too much. It has nothing to do with our business arrangements. Since I wrote I have gone through a kind of private revolution. It has been in the air for years with me. And now it has happened very very much is changed.
When we met in London and discussed ‘ideas' I spoke as nearly as one can the deepest truth I knew to you. But even while I spoke it I felt a pretender - for my knowledge of this truth is negative, not positive as it were cold, and not warm with life. For instance all we have said of ‘individuality' and of being strong and single, and of growing - I believe it. I try to act up to it. But the reality is far far different. Circumstances still hypnotise me. I am a divided being with a bias towards what I wish to be, but no more. And this it seems I cannot improve. No, I cannot. I have tried. If you knew how many notebooks there are of these trials, but they never succeed. So I am always conscious of this secret disruption in me - and at last (thank Heaven!) it has ended in a complete revolution and I mean to change my whole way of life entirely. I mean to learn to work in every possible way with my hands, looking after animals and doing all kinds of manual labour. I do not want to write any stories until I am a less terribly poor human being. It seems to me that in life as it is lived today the catastrophe is imminent; I feel this catastrophe in me. I want to be prepared for it, at least. [To S. S. Koteliansky, 19 October 1922.]

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18 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

It's only while Ida is my legs that she is so present. It's a false position, you see. I pretend I am doing things for myself and so on. In reality I am using Ida. And that makes her wrong (for she doesn't know where she ‘is') and in fact it is so wrong all round that it's a marvel to me we have come through. When we meet again (when I am better) you will see the difference, darling.
And I want to say I trust you absolutely. I shall love you and trust you more and more. For these things always increase as one spends them, a divine kind of money. But I am still not sincere with you. In my heart I am far more desperate about my illness and about Life than I ever show you. I long to lead a different life in every way. I have no belief whatever in any kind of medical treatment. Perhaps I am telling you this to beg you to have faith in me - to believe that whatever I do it is because I can't do otherwise. That is to say (let me say it bang out) I may go into the Institute for 3 months. I don't know that I shall. But if I have more faith in it than in Manoukhin I certainly must. Keep this private, darling. I know you will. But don't speak to anybody about it. [To Dorothy Brett, 15 October 1922.]

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17 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

My dearest little Queen B.
I never had a lovelier letter from you. And it came on my birthday - wasn't that good fortune. Wasn't that like you - the billiard champion? I did love you for it! You have a real very rare gift for writing letters. And Oh how nice and long they are. Arrows, little side borders, little flower beds very tight packed with words along the edge - I follow them all and even dip into the Egyptian Maze though never to find my way in it!
Ah, my dear. Priceless exquisite treasures came floating out of your letter. I have gathered them all up. But that reminds me of the canary feathers. I am having a pair of wings made of them for delicate occasions. Did you ever feel anything so airy-fairy?
I sat in the Luxembourg Gardens today and thought of you. I am glad you were not with me for I felt like a chat malade, sitting in the sun, and not a friend of anybody's. But all was so ravishingly fall-of-the-year lovelythat I feel how you would have responded. The gardener was sweeping leaves from the bright grass. The flowers are still glorious, but still, as though suspended, as though hardly daring to breathe.
[To Dorothy Brett, 15 October 1922.]

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16 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Why don't you get some animals? Im not joking. Two hours a day would be enough for them. Birds, rabbits, a goat - anything and live through it or them! I know you will say you haven't the time. But you'll find your work is a 100 times easier if you come to it refreshed, renewed, rich, happy. Does this sound like preaching. Dont let it. I am trying to tell you what I feel deep down is your way of escape. It is to really throw yourself into life, not desperately but with the love you even don't feel yet. People wont do. We know too well that unless one has a background of reality in oneself people can't endure in us. When we have a table spread we can afford to open our door to guests, but not before. But enough of this. I am afraid of boring you. [To J. M. Murry, 15 October 1922.]

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15 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

About doing operations on yourself I know just what you mean. Its as though one were the sport of circumstance - one is, indeed. Now happy - now unhappy, now fearful, now confident, just as the pendulum swings. You see one can control nothing if one isn't conscious of a purpose - its like a journey without a goal. There is nothing that makes you ignore some things, accept others, order others, submit to others. For there is no reason why A should be more important than B. So there one is - involved beyond words - feeling the next minute I may be bowled over or struck all of a heap. I know nothing.
This is to me a very terrible state of affairs. Because its the cause of all the unhappiness (the secret profound unhappiness) in my life. But I mean to escape and to try to live differently. It isn't easy. But is the other state easy? And I do believe with all my being that if one can break through the circle one finds "my burden is light". [To J. M. Murry, 14 October 1922.]

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14 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

My darling Bogey
Your sweet telegram and letter are here. Thank you my angel. I do think Selsfield sounds perfect but its no good my coming there while I am a creeping worm. When I can fly I will come if you will have me. So very deeply gladly. I am more than happy to know you are there. Most blessed house! How it lives in my memory. Fancy the blackberries ripe. There are some, aren't there? Along the fence on the way to the Hen Houses, I seem to remember. Michaelmas daisies remind me of a solitary bush in Acacia Road. Do you remember? I like them. They have such very delicate arrowy petals.
I send back Elizabeths letter. lf that is grist you have a very superior mill indeed. Why do you mind punching holes in me? If you punch holes in her? I do think she writes the most ‘fascinating' letters. If I were a man I should fall in love every time I had one. What qualities she has - and tenderness, real tenderness, hasn't she? I feel it, or perhaps I want to feel it. [To J. M. Murry, 14 October 1922.]

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13 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Yes, I care for Lawrence. I have thought of writing to him and trying to arrange a meeting after I leave Paris - suggesting that I join them until the spring. Richard, too, I think of with love. That reminds me. Won't you ask Milne down for a weekend? But he is so shy perhaps he would refuse. Do you know what I think he is? A Dreamer. A real one. He chooses to dream.
I am going to Fontainebleau next week to see Gurdjieff. I will tell you about it. Why am I going? From all I hear he is the only man who understands there is no division between the body and the spirit, who believes how they are related. You remember how I have always said doctors only treat half. And you have replied ‘Its up to you to do the rest'? It is. Thats true. But first I must learn how. I believe Gurdjieff can teach me. What other people say doesn't matter - other people matter not at all.
But you matter to me - more and more. Id like to say I believe as never before in the possibility of real living relationship between us - a true one. Again, my love, I thank you for the rose.
Ever
Wig. [To J. M. Murry, 13 October 1922.]

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12 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Its a divinely beautiful day - so was yesterday. I hope you are having the same weather at Selsfield. The sky is as blue as the sky can be. I shall go to the Luxembourg Gardens this afternoon and count dahlia and baby heads. The Paris gardens are simply a glorious sight with flowers - masses of beloved japonica, enough japonica at last. I shall have a garden one day and work in it, too. Plant, weed, tie up, throw over the wall. And the peony border really will be staggering. Oh, how I love flowers! I think of them with such longing. I go through them, one after another, remembering them from their first moments with love - oh with rapture as if they were babies! No its what other women feel for babies - perhaps. Oh Earth! Lovely unforgettable Earth. Yesterday I saw the leaves falling, so gently, so softly, raining down from little slender trees golden against the blue. Perhaps Autumn is loveliest. Lo! it is autumn. What is the magic of that? It is magic to me.
At that very minute in came your letter with the rose - and the aspen tree, the two little birds the ring from the anvil and the far away rooster. You never gave me such a perfect birthday present before. A divine one. I love you for it.  [To J. M. Murry, 13 October 1922.]

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11 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

A new way of being is not an easy thing to live. Thinking about it preparing to meet the difficulties and so on is one thing, meeting those difficulties another. I have to die to so much; I have to make such big changes. I feel the only thing to do is to get the dying over - to court it, almost (Fearfully hard, that) and then all hands to the business of being reborn again. What do I mean exactly? Let me give you an instance. Looking back, my boat is almost swamped sometimes by seas of sentiment. ‘Ah what I have missed. How sweet it was, how dear how warm, how simple, how precious.' And I think of the garden at the Isola Bella and the furry bees and the house wall so warm. But then I remember what we really felt there. The blanks, the silences, the anguish of continual misunderstanding. Were we positive, eager, real - alive? No, we were not. We were a nothingness shot with gleams of what might be. But no more. Well, I have to face everything as far as I can & see where I stand - what remains.
For with all my soul I do long for a real life, for truth, and for real strength. Its simply incredible, watching KM, to see how little causes a panic. Shes a perfect corker at toppling over. [To J. M. Murry, 11 October 1922.]

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10 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Dear Mr Gerhardi,
Im very shaken today after a small minor revolution in the night. I put a vacuum flask full of boiling tea on the table by my bed last night and at about 2 oclock in the morning there was a most TERRIFIC explosion. It blew up everything. People ran from far an [sic] near. Gendarmes broke through the shutters with hatchets, firemen dropped through trap doors. Or very nearly. At any rate the noise was deafening and when I switched on the light there was my fiaschino outwardly calm still but tinkling internally in a terribly ominous way and a thin sad trickle oozed along the table.
I have nobody to tell this to today. So I hope your eyes roll. I hope you appreciate how fearful it might have been had it burst outwardly and not inwardly.  [To William Gerhardi, c.10 October 1922.]

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9 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

My dear Koteliansky
I have finished the Letters [by Dostoevsky], here they are. They are, the more one looks into them, a remarkable revelation of what goes on behind the scenes. Except for ‘Kiss the foal' & "buy the children sweets; even doctors prescribe sweets for children", there is hardly one single statement that isn't pure matter-of-fact. The whole affair is like the plot of a short story or small novel by himself; he reacts to everything exactly as he would react to a written thing. Theres no expansion, no evidence of a LIVING man, a REAL man. The glimpse one has of his relationship with Anya is somehow petty and stuffy, essentially a double bed relationship.? And then "Turgenev read so badly"; they say he (D.) read so superbly. Oh dear, oh dear, it would take an Anna Grigorevna to be proud of such letters.
Yet this was a noble, suffering, striving soul, a real hero among men - wasn't he? I mean from his books . . . The one who writes the letters is the house porter of the other. I suppose one ought not to expect to find the master at his own front door as well as in his study. But I find it hard to reconcile myself to that. I do not think these deep divisions in people are necessary or vital. Perhaps it is cowardice in me. [To S. S. Koteliansky, 9 October 1922.]

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8 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

If you knew how vivid the little house is - but vivid beyond words. Not only for itself. It exists apart from all - it is a whole in life. I think of you. . . One has such terribly so& tender feelings. But to work - to work. One must take just those feelings and work with them. Life is a mystery - we can never get over that. Is it a series of deaths and series of killings? It is that too. But who shall say where death ends and resurrection begins. Thats what one must do. Give to the idea of resurrection the power that death would like to have. Be born again and born again faster than we die. . .
Tell me, my dove, why do you "warn" me. What musn't I be "too sure" of? You mystify me. Do you think I am too sure of Love? But if Love is there one must treat it as though one were sure of it - how else? If its not there Id rather be sure of that, too. Or do you mean something else?
It has turned as cold as ice - and colder. The sun shines but it is soleil glacé. Its due north and due east all mixed up in the same frozen bag. If it wasn't for the blue up above one would cry. [To Dorothy Brett, 9 October 1922.]

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7 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

My darling Boge,
Do not bother to write to me when you are not in the mood. I quite understand and don't expect too many letters.
Yes this is where I stayed pendant la guerre. Its the quietest hotel I ever was in. I don't think tourists come at all. There are funny rules about not doing ones washing or fetching in ones cuisine from dehors which suggests a not rich an' grand clientele. What is nice too is one can get a tray in the evening if one doesn't want to go out. Fearfully good what I imagine is provincial cooking - all in big bowls, piping hot, brought up by the garcon who is a v. nice fellow in a red veskit & white apron & a little grey cloth cap (!) I think some English traveller left it in a cupboard about 1879. The salt & pepper stand, by the way is a little glass motorcar. Salt is driver & Pepper esquire is master in the back seat - the dark fiery one of the two, so different to plain old Salt. . . What a good fellow he is, though! [To J. M. Murry, 8 October 1922.]

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6 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Dearest Bogey
How very strange about your soldier! I wish I had seen him. Petone! The Gear Co.! And fancy you remembering about those rugs. The way you told me the story reminded me of Lawrence, somehow. It was quite different. I saw the soldier so plainly, heard his voice, saw the deserted street on early closing day, saw his clothes, the sack, "old boy. . . " It was strangely complete.
By the way I wonder why things that happen in the rain seem always more wonderful. Do you feel that? There's such a freshness about them, something so unexpected and vivid. I could go on thinking of that for hours.
I heard from Jeanne this morning. She is marrying her young man on October 10th (before he sails) & wondered if you'd go to the wedding. Just in case you should have the faintest feeling I'd like you to go (you know these queer feelings) this is to say I havent.
Its the most lovely morning. There's just a light sailing breeze & the sun is really hot. Thinking of London is like thinking of living in a chimney.
[To J. M. Murry, 6 October 1922.]

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5 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Dearest Bogey
I don t feel influenced by Youspensky or Dunning. I merely feel Ive heard ideas like my ideas but bigger ones, far more definite ones. And that there really is Hope - real Hope - not half-Hope . . . As for Tchekhov being damned - why should he be? Cant you rope Tchekhov in? I can. Hes much nearer to me than he used to be.
Its nice to hear of Richard sawing off his table legs and being moved by the greengrocer. Why is it greengrocers have such a passion for bedding people out? . . .In my high little room for 10 francs a day with flowers in a glass and a quilted sateen bedcover I don't feel far from Richard, either. Oh, its so awfully nice to have passed private suites and marble tops and private bathrooms by! Gone! Gone for ever. I found a little restaurant last night where one dines ever so sumptuous for 6-7 francs, and the grapes are tied with red satin bows, and someone gives the cat a stewed prune and someone else cries "le chat a mangé une compote de pruneaux!"
True, one is no longer of people. But was one ever. This, looking on, understanding what one can is better. . .
Wig. [To J. M. Murry, 4 October 1922.]

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3 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

We had a divine crossing. Very still silvery sea with gulls moving on the waves like the lights in a pearl. It was fiery hot in Calais - whoof! It was blazing. And there were old women with pears to sell wherever you looked or didn't look. Voici mes jolies poires! Yellowy green with leaves among them. Old hands holding up the satiny baskets. So beautiful. English ladies buying them and trying to eat them through their veils. So awful. The way to Paris was lovely too. All the country just brushed over with light gold - and white oxen ploughing and a man riding a horse into a big dark pond. Paris too, very warm and shadowy with wide spaces and lamps a kind of glow-worm red n not yellow at all. Then began the chase. It ended in a perfectly FEARFUL room that looked like the scene of a long line of murders. The water in the pipes sobbed and gurgled and sighed all night & in the morning it sounded as though people broke open the shutters with hatchets. [To Dorothy Brett, 3 October 1922.]

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2 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Oh, I meant to suggest to you to ask for Yeats Memoirs to review. I think they are coming out this autumn. I believe you would find them very interesting. Hes not a ‘sympathetic' person, as far as I know, but hes one of those men who reflect their time. Such men have a fascination for me. Haven't they for you?
I wish we lived nearer to each other. I should like to talk more to you. But there is time. When this jungle of circumstances is cleared a little we shall be freer to enjoy each other. It is not the moment, now. Tell me what you can about yourself Not even you could wish for your happiness more than I do. Don't forget that dragons are only guardians of treasures and one fights them for what they keep - not for themselves.
Goodbye darling Bogey. I hope to see Manoukhin tomorrow. I'll tell you what he says.
Ever yours lovingly
Wig. [To J. M. Murry, 3 October 1922.]

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1 October 1922

Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, Paris

Dearest Bogey .
After great grief and pain we have at last found a hotel. Ida has gone off for the bagage registré and Im in one of those gaps, looking before and after, in a room thats not ready with luggage half unpacked - you know? Its not bad, though - rather nice, in fact. My room is so pleasant after all the rooms I saw yesterday night! I even went back to the Victor-Pal and had a glimpse of the ‘uncles' still there and the Mlle at the Bureau - toujours la meme camisole. Happily, it, too was full. It was a glorious soft brilliant night - very warm - only man was vile. . . This hotel is the one I stayed at during the war. My room is on the 6ieme rather small and low but very possible. Shabby, but it gets the sun. Outside the window there's the Sorbonne roofs with tall grave signors in marble peignoirs holding up a finger. Also a coy, rather silly looking eagle poised over a plaque called Géologie. [To J. M. Murry, 3 October 1922.]

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