March 18, 2013 | by Kirsten O'Regan
In “Je Ne Parle Pas Français,” a short story by Katherine Mansfield, the narrator muses: “I believe that people are like portmanteaux—packed with certain things, started going, thrown about, tossed away, dumped down, lost and found, half emptied suddenly, or squeezed fatter than ever, until finally the Ultimate Porter swings them on to the Ultimate Train and away they rattle …”
Mansfield’s own Train has proved to be less Ultimate than she may have hoped. Despite sharp instructions to her husband to publish as little as possible after her death, the enterprising John Middleton Murry quickly set about curating her legacy. He perceptively noted (with, one imagines, a gleeful rubbing of hands), “Since Katherine Mansfield’s death, the interest in her personality has steadily increased.” It was, he explained, his duty to make known her private correspondence, the stories she was unsatisfied with, the journals in which she had recorded her thoughts.
It has been a lively afterlife. In the ninety years since Mansfield’s death, her work has never been out of print; the same stories repeatedly reedited and reissued in newer, more “authentic” editions. Biographies have multiplied, clamoring for validation like conspiracy theorists. Scholars have greedily rummaged through this particular portmanteau, each emerging with quite irreconcilable portraits of the author. Read More »