I spent some time over the summer revisiting the work of Katherine Mansfield, which was pure joy and came about because of two unrelated sources! Firstly, my OH rather cleverly presented me with the DVD which you can see in the picture: a wonderful 6-part BBC series on KM from 1973. With Vanessa Redgrave perfectly cast as Mansfield and the gorgeous Jeremy Brett as a very buttoned-up and intense John Middleton Murry, it made for compelling viewing. Now as you might have picked up, I’m not one for TV, especially not modern rubbish (!) – although I adore a decent documentary as I’ve often made plain. But this is TV from when I was growing up, which often looked more like filmed plays and had what I would call Proper Acting, and it was just brilliant and moving. Annette Crosbie was perfect as Mansfield’s BFF, LM, and the series featured episodes from her life interspersed with dramatizations of her work.

The show was a real treat, and made even better by the fact I had a lovely copy of a new selection of her stories which has just been brought out by Alma Classics. “The Garden Party and Selected Short Stories” is a handsome little volume, and contains some classic KM. The title story is possibly her most famous, but it also contains myriad treats from her other collections too. There’s “Je ne parle pas francais”, where Mansfield slips into the voice of a young French roué; “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, a sharp dissection of two maiden sisters who’ve wasted their life looking after their bullying father; and several stories from “In a German Pension”, which cast a cynical eye on the snobbery and pettiness of boarding house life. And that’s just a few of the treats – the Alma book is a really nice collection and a good way to start to explore her work if you’re interested.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mansfield only ever wrote short stories (and poems and letters and journals, of course!) and that format seems so perfectly suited to her. I’ve seen her stories compared to Chekhov (another master of the form) and I don’t think that’s such a wild pairing. Many of the stories in the book draw on Mansfield’s childhood in New Zealand and they’re moving and evocative; she has a particular talent for capturing the child’s eye view, and revisiting her prose reminded me of why Virginia Woolf stated KM’s was the only writing she had even been jealous of.

My Mansfield shelf…

I finished both book and TV series in a fairly emotional state. I had quite an obsession with Mansfield in my early 20s but hadn’t read her for ages; and of course her life was such a short and tragic one, dying at an early age from TB. The end of the TV show was desperately moving, although it did send me off to check the facts, as I had forgotten that her husband Murry had been present when she died. I dug out my old Alpers biography and found that the TV show had been remarkably faithful to the truth, which set me off again. I have volumes of Mansfield’s letters and diaries on the shelf and I may have to make some return visits to those, as well as exploring the ones I’ve not read yet. Mansfield was a brilliant writer; both Redgrave and Brett are/were fine actors; and all of this added up to a marvellously emotional experience over the summer break.

However, despite him having bought me the DVD, I did actually have to explain to OH who Katherine Mansfield was…. 😀

Review book kindly provided by Alma Classics, for which many thanks!

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