'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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20 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Ouspensky came over last week. I had a short talk with him. He is a very fine man. I wish you would just see him - out of - lets call it curiosity.
   I must get dressed for dinner. I badly need a good washing. Remarkable how clothes fall into their proper place here. We dress in the evening but during the day. . .the men look like brigands. Nobody cares, nobody dreams of criticising.
   Oh, Bogey how I love this place! It is like a dream - or a miracle. What do the ‘silly' people matter & there are silly people who come from London, see nothing & go away again. There is something marvellous here - if one can only attain it.
   Goodbye for now, my dearest.
                                  Ever your own
                                                     Wig.
I will write Elizabeth.  [To J. M. Murry, 19 November 1922.]

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19 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

  Your idea of buying some land & building a little house does seem to me a bit premature, darling. You know so little. You have never tried your hand at such things. Its not quite easy to change from an intellectual life like yours to a life of hard physical work. But your remark made me wish you did care for my ‘ideas'. I mean by my ‘ideas' my desire to learn to work in the right way and to live as a conscious human being. They are not more than that. There is certainly no other spot on this whole planet where one can be taught as one is taught here. But Life is not easy. We have great ‘diff1culties' - painful moments, and Mr Gurdjieff is there to do to us what we wish to do to ourselves and are afraid to do. Well, theoretically that is very wonderful, but practically it must mean suffering, because one cannot always understand. [To J. M. Murry, 19 November 1922.]

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18 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   It is intensely cold here. Quite as cold as Switzerland. But it does not matter in the same way. One has not the time to think about it. There is always something happening and people are a support. I spent the winter afternoon yesterday scraping carrots - masses of carrots - & half way through I suddenly thought of my bed in the corner of that room at the Chalet des Sapins. . . Oh how is it possible there is such a difference between that loneliness and isolation (just waiting for you to come in & you knowing I was waiting) and this. People were running in and out of the kitchen. Portions of the first pig we have killed were on the table and greatly admired. Coffee was roasting in the oven. Barker cluttered through with his milk pail. I must tell you, darling, my love of cows persists. We now have three. They are real beauties - immense - with short curly hair? fur? wool? between their horns. Geese, too, have been added to the establishment. They seem full of intelligence. I am becoming absorbed in animals, not to watch only but to know how to care for them & to know about them. Why does one live so far away from all these things? Bees we shall have later. I am determined to know about bees. [To J. M. Murry, 19 November 1922.]

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17 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Darling Bogey
   The affaire at Selsfield does so puzzle me. L-E [Vivian Locke-Ellis] is not at all the man we thought he was if he has made it or allowed it to be difficult for you to be there any longer. Why is it? Is Sylvia to be a permanency? What are the arrangements. I would like to know; they seem so strange.
   I am thankful you have your little flat, darling. Rob mine to make yours snug. Take all you can or care to away. But do you keep warm enough? And what about food, I wonder? I have asked Ida to buy me a number of things while she is in England & to bring them over to Paris with her. Bogey, I have not got a cheque book for the moment. Would you send her a cheque for £10.0.0 on my behalf? Ill let you have it back in a week or two. But would you send it at once? As Ida is going to stay such a short while in England. Thank you, dearest. [To J. M. Murry, 19 November 1922.]

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16 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
   I have forgotten your Lewes address. Please send it me. And tell me how long you will be in England, will you? I have asked Jack to give you some stockings to bring me. Id like another wrap, too, like my red one, but cream & another pair of slippers from Lewis just like the ones I have. But Ill let you know, later. Jack seems v. well & v. happy. Do see him! I am so grateful for my toilet accessories. They are a comfort. The blue dress is about 2 miles too long. It trails. I shall have to take it up about ½ a yard for dancing.
   DONT make me woollen tops please or woollen knickers. I don't need them. Id rather have a few thin crepe tops - I need them urgently, & some ribbons for head bands. Why did I ever throw away what I have thrown away!
   Bon Voyage.
                          Yours ever
                                    K.M.[To Ida Baker, 13 November 1922.]

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15 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   About my stockings, darling. I heard from Ida today saying she goes to England tomorrow & would like to see you. She intends to return to France where she goes to work on some farm. Would you give the stockings to her? Ill ask her to write to you. I never think of Ida except when I get letters from her. Poor Ida! When I do I am sorry for her. I must finish this letter, darling. It is written on the arm of a chair, on a cushion on my bed, as I try to escape from the heat of my fire. Oh - I have so much to do this afternoon! Its terrible how the days pass. I had a bath this morning for the first time since leaving England! There's a nice confession. But its wonderful what can be done with a basin and a rough towel.
   Have you read Elizabeths new novel? What do you think of it? Please tell me! How is your gardening getting on? Have you learnt to drive the car?
   Goodbye my dear darling.
                                  Ever your
                                           Wig. [To J. M. Murry, 12 November 1922.]

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14 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Dear Bogey I am not ‘hypnotised'. But it does seem to me there are certain people here who are far beyond any I have met - of a quite different order. Some - most - of the English here don't even catch a glimpse of it. But I am sure. I remember I used to think - if there was one thing I could not bear in a community it would be the women. But now the women are nearer & far dearer than the men - of course I don't speak of Mr Gurdjieff I couldn't say he was near or dear to me! He is the embodiment of the life here, but at a remote distance.
   Since last I wrote to you I have changed my room. Now I am in another wing - another kind of existence altogether. Where all was so quiet outside the door all is noise & bustle. My other room was very rich & sumptuous. This is small & plain & very simple. When Olga Ivanovna & I had arranged it & she had hung her yellow dancing stockings to dry before the fire we sat together on the bed & felt like two quite poor young girls .... different beings, altogether. I like being here very much. I hope Mr Gurdjieff does not move us again too soon. But it is a favourite habit of his to set the whole house walking. Easy to see why when one saw the emotions it aroused. [To J. M. Murry, 12 November 1922.]

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13 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

I must say the dancing here has given me quite a different approach to writing. I mean some of the very ancient Oriental dance. There is one which takes about 7 minutes & it contains the whole life of woman - but everything! Nothing is left out. It taught me, it gave me more of woman's life than any book or poem. There was even room for Flaubert's Coeur Simple in it & for Princess Marya . . . mysterious. By the way I have had a great talk about Shakespeare here with a man called Salzmann, who is by ‘profession' a painter. He knows & understands the plays far better than anyone I have met except you. He happens, too (this is by the way) to be a great friend of Olga Knippers. His wife is the chief dancer here - a very beautiful woman with a marvellous intelligence. [To J. M. Murry, 12 November 1922.]

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12 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
Here is 500 francs. How long will the Gay-Lussac address be yours? Let me know in time. Sometimes letters get delayed here for a day or two - very rarely, but just in case, I give you warning. I am so glad to have the green skirt. The black coat is like most of the other things much too small - two sizes too small, arms too short. And I have one black velvet jacket - why a black plush? I wish I could send it back to you. I so hate hard things that stand out, like plush. Will you tell me just what money you have?
How much more than 1000 francs have you spent is what I want to know. The mouth pastilles you sent me are also useless. They do not dissolve in either hot or cold water. I TERRIBLY need a good mouth antiseptic, a good toothbrush, and some toothpicks. Also water softener, an antiseptic like Condy. I think & hope that will be the end of my needs.
Of course I take back my words about the tops & knickers.
Yours ever
K.M. [To Ida Baker, 6 November 1922.]

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12 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Darling Bogey,
   I have 2 letters of yours to answer. What a queer situation with regard to Sylvia Sullivan. Poor L.E.! That is what comes of trying to help people without knowing how to. It only aggravates their disorders. Don't you find Sylvia S. attractive at all? I feel there is a certain personality in you which would be greatly drawn to her. I am surprised that her relations with Sullivan are not good. He gave me to understand that Dunning had convinced him completely of - not only her need of him but of his of her. I am so sorry for you when you speak of your life as emerging from your study & disappearing into it again. Don't you sicken of shutting that door & sitting down to that table? One feels like a spider in an empty house. For whom this web. Why do I strain to spin and spin? Here, I confess, after only five weeks, there are things I long to write! Oh, how I long to! But I shall not for a long time. Nothing is ready. I must wait until la maison est pleine. [To J. M. Murry, 12 November 1922.]

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11 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
I do not think Lisieux is a good idea. It is too isolated. You need people & interchange of relationships to take you out of yourself. You will only get depressed and dull at the farm, I should think. That is my opinion. Would not the Palace at Montana be better? Or that V.A.D. place at Menton? Or why not write to Jinnie F? [Fullerton] She might have an idea. I think it would be worse than folly to live a lonely life. Surely you know your need of people! Any kind of isolation is only possible for very great strong people.
Why are you so tragic? It does not help. It only hinders you. If you suffer, learn to understand your suffering but don't give way to it. The part of you that lived through me has to die - then you will be born. Get the dying over! But remember you will teach yourself nothing alone on a farm. You are not the type. [
No, it makes no difference to me if you are in Paris or not. . . How I am? I am learning to live. But I have not ‘disappeared'. Later I may go to Paris or London or Berlin or anywhere & we could meet and have a talk. I am far less disappeared than ever I was.
I meant the cheque to be 500. Please cash it and use it.
As for the clothes, later, I shall alter them myself.
But do you see that our relationship was absolutely wrong now? You were identified with me. I prevented you from living at all. Now you have to learn & its terribly hard. [To Ida Baker, 10 November 1922.]

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10 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

But I am giving the impression that we all live together in brotherly love & blissful happiness. Not at all. One suffers terribly. If you have been ill for 5 years you cant expect to be well in five weeks. If you have been ill for 20 years & according to Mr Gurdjieff we all of us have our ‘illness' it takes very severe measures to put one right. But the point is there is hope. One can & does believe that one will escape from living in circles & will live a CONSCIOUS life. One can, through work, escape from falsity & be true to ones own self - not to what anyone else on earth thinks one is.
I wish you could meet some of the men here. You would like them very very much, especially a Mr Salzmann, who speaks very little. I must stop this letter. Is it a rigmarole?
I don't know what you mean darling by seeing me as an angel with a sword. I don't feel at all like one. There is another thing. You can't really be happy in my happiness. No one ever is. That phrase is only a kind of buffer - don't you think? Its like people living through their children. Well, they may do it. But its not life. Neither can I ever teach you how to live. How is it possible? You are you. I am I. We can only lead our own lives together. [To J. M. Murry, 10 November 1922.]

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9 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Until I came here I did not realise with what a little bit of my mind, even, I lived. I was a little European with a liking for eastern carpets and music and for something that I vaguely called The East. But now I feel as though I am turned to that side far more than the other. The west seems so poor so scattered. I cannot believe knowledge or wisdom are there. I expect this is a phase. I tell it you because I said I would tell you my reactions. . . In three weeks here I feel I have spent years in India, Arabia, Afghanistan, Persia. That is very odd, isn't it. And oh, how one wanted to voyage like this - how bound one felt. Only now I know!
There is another thing here. Friendship. The real thing that you and I have dreamed of Here it exists between women & women & men & women & one feels it is unalterable, and living in a way it never can be anywhere else. I cant say I have friends yet. I am simply not fit for them. I don't know myself enough to be really trusted, and I am weak where these people are strong. But even the relationships I have are dear beyond any friendships I have known. [To J. M. Murry, 10 November 1922.]

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8 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

£5 note enclosed.
My darling Bogey
I had a letter from you today saying you had bought a pruning knife. I hope you succeed with the old trees. Here it is part of the ‘work' to do a great many things, especially things which one does not like. I see the point of that. It's the same principle as facing people whom one shrinks from and so on. It is to develop a greater range in oneself But what happens in practice is that no sooner do the people begin doing those things they don't like than the dislike changes. One feels it no longer. Its only that first step which is so terribly hard to take.
Are you having really divine weather? Its marvellous here - like late spring today, really warm. The leaves are still falling. The part belonging to this chateau is incredibly beautiful, and with our live stock roaming about it begins to look like a little piece of virgin creation.
I am fearfully busy. What do I do? Well, I learn Russian, which is a terrific job, have charge of the indoor carnations - no joke, & spend the rest of the day paying visits to places where people are working. Then every evening about 50 people meet in the salon and there is music and they are working at present at a tremendous ancient Assyrian Group Dance. I have no words with which to describe it. To see it seems to change ones whole being for the time. [To J. M. Murry, 10 November 1922.]

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7 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
Here is 500 francs. How long will the Gay-Lussac address be yours? Let me know in time. Sometimes letters get delayed here for a day or two - very rarely, but just in case, I give you warning. I am so glad to have the green skirt. The black coat is like most of the other things much too small - two sizes too small, arms too short. And I have one black velvet jacket - why a black plush? I wish I could send it back to you. I so hate hard things that stand out, like plush. Will you tell me just what money you have?
How much more than 1000 francs have you spent is what I want to know. The mouth pastilles you sent me are also useless. They do not dissolve in either hot or cold water. I TERRIBLY need a good mouth antiseptic, a good toothbrush, and some toothpicks. Also water softener, an antiseptic like Condy. I think & hope that will be the end of my needs.
Of course I take back my words about the tops & knickers.
Yours ever
K.M. [To Ida Baker, 6 November 1922.]

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6 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dear Ida
Forgive my harshness. Of course I have thought better of it & am ashamed. The galoshes & garters have come so has the black coat. Thank you v. much. The green skirt never came. I should indeed have liked it. Nor did the coat & skirt. I am all coats & no skirts - most awkward. What good soap! Thank you for it. Dont forget to let me know where you go after the hotel. These letters came for you. The weather is glorious here, too, like late spring. Still, I am so thankful for the galoshes. Do please tell me by return what I owe you.
Excuse this note. It is written in such haste. I do want one other thing. A perfectly plain chemise frock to wear without a petticoat to do exercises in the evening. You know the kind of thing. Cashmere would do - I mean a thin gabardine or anything like that - dead simple, though & preferably dark blue with as little lining as possible. But it mustnt show ones legs through. Shall I send you 500 francs?
Yours ever
K.M. [To Ida Baker, 2 November 1922.]

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5 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

I wonder if you have seen Elizabeths new book [The Enchanted April]? I received it from her this week & read it immediately. My private opinion is it is very tame and even tiresome. I think she works her jokes about husbands and God far too hard. I am thoroughly bored by her comic husbands and equally bored by their wives. But perhaps I was not in the mood for that kind of thing. I shall find it very difficult to write to her about it.
I wonder if you happen to have come across a novel called "The Brimming Cup" by an American woman. The name of the writer is Dorothy Canfield. It seemed to me a most charming book and extremely clever. I read Hutchinson's "This Freedom", too. It seemed to me the most fearful twaddle. But no doubt it has brought him in about £15,000. Very nice for him.
Well, darling, I must finish this letter & try & waggle my thumb into action again. One very pleasant thing here is that I have to speak Russian consistently and shall I hope, get as fluent in it as I am in French and German. After that I should like to rub up my Italian. Languages fascinate me.
Goodbye for now, my darling Father. I do hope your health is good, that all is well with you in every possible way. You are in my thoughts so often.
I shall always wish we were nearer.
Ever your devoted child
Kass [To Harold Beauchamp, 2 November 1922.]

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4 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

This has been, so far, the most beautiful autumn. Today it was as clear and as dry as Switzerland. I am living here in a large chateau which has been taken and is being run by the Russians. The rooms are most lovely and to the picturesqueness is joined central heating and hot and cold water - most important at this season of the year. I am so longing to have your first letter from New Zealand. Was the Grange looking lovely? What a joy to feel one is turned towards summer again. . . I receive the happiest letters from Jack who is as busy as usual. My ‘busyness' is revealed in my hand writing which, bad at the best of times, is far worse owing to an attack of writers cramp. It is a most annoying complaint because it is so unimportant, and comes ‘off and on' when one least expects it.
I heard from Doctor Sorapure last week. Not the letter I much care for, but an account for my London visits. I can't help feeling that doctors earn their money a great deal more easily than the rest of the world. [To Harold Beauchamp, 2 November 1922.]

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3 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

I am as confident as ever I was that my lean years will be followed by fat ones. The one great thing, I believe, is to keep on trying. Not to give up and not to accept the life of an invalid. I am determined to regain my health, but it may take a little longer than I had hoped. All is very snug here, and I feel my general condition is a great deal better already. That is enough of me and illness.
I heard from Marie yesterday that she & little J. and man intend to spend the winter in town. I am still sorry that little J. has married her Charles at this stage of the proceedings. It seemed to me an unwise move, as looked at from the outside. Jack, who was at the wedding, said she looked exactly like a child with tears of happiness in her eyes and that Charles looked very much the triumphant young man! Well he might, too, to have gained such a treasure. I find it difficult to feel for Charles as I should like to, but perhaps he will turn up trumps, and I am hardly the person to criticise such affairs of others. [To Harold Beauchamp, 2 November 1922.]

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2 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dearest Father,
I have been thinking of you so often this month as it is your birthday. I hope you have a very fine day for it; I can hardly imagine a more enjoyable gift. It was most delightful to hear from you at Port Said and to know that your voyage, as far as climatic conditions were concerned, was so far successful. I only hope the blue sky and sea continued.
I have a minor misfortune to relate in connection with my second series of X-ray treatment. This time almost immediately my heart began to play up and after two applications I could hardly move at all. I felt extremely ill and disappointed, but it was out of the question to continue. But my black cloud showed what is apparently its silver lining quite soon. I got into touch with some other Russian (Russians seem to haunt me) doctors who claim to cure hearts of all kinds by means of a system of gentle exercises and movements. They are established at Fontainebleau where their method is put into practice. So down I came to concentrate (as old V. would say) on my heart for the next few months and then to see what I can do with my wings. Its very unlucky that I always have these chapters of accidents to recount but, you know, dearest, I feel they are in the picture for me for the moment. [To Harold Beauchamp, 2 November 1922.]

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1 November 1922

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

But in the meantime, love, please never take what I say for ‘absolute'. I do not take what you say for ‘final'. I try & see it as relative. Essentially, you and I are together. I love you & I feel you are my man. Its that I want to build on and realise and really live in one of these days. So I shall write at least twice a week & tell you any odd things that are happening. Will you tell me, too?
Last night, for instance, in the salon we learnt to make rugs from long pieces of corn. Very nice ones. Very easy to make, too. I have been in the carpenters shop all the morning. The small forge is alight, Mr Gudjieff is planing, a Mr Salzmannl is making wheels. Later on I shall learn carpentry. We are going to learn as many trades as possible, also all kinds of farm work. The cows are being bought today. Gurdjieff is going to build a high couch in the stable where I can sit & inhale their breath! I know later on I shall be put in charge of those cows. Everyone calls them already "Mrs Murrys cows".
This letter must be posted, love. Do please forgive my two silly ones. I learn terribly slowly, my precious Veen, & I must not hurt you.
Ever your own
Wig.
I am making a cure of goats milk - 4 times a day! [To J. M. Murry, 2 November 1922.]

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