'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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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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