In 1919 John Middleton Murry was appointed editor of the London literary magazine The Athenaeum. Shortly afterward, in a rare case of felicitous nepotism, he hired his wife Katherine Mansfield to be its fiction reviewer.
A berth reviewing the unending landslide of new novels seems like a bad fit for a writer of Mansfield’s rarefied gifts. Her stories have the oceanic qualities that define the best of 20th-century modernism—all flashing, curving surfaces that at sudden moments reveal the chaotic emotional currents hidden below. She was at once a painstakingly sensitive impressionist and a writer of high passions. She had little use for the traditional conventions of the short story. What was such a person doing turning out deadline copy like an ink-stained Fleet Street hack?
"Leila was sure if her partner didn’t come and she had to listen to that marvellous music and to watch the others sliding, gliding over the golden floor, she would die at least, or faint, or lift her arms and fly out of one of those dark windows that showed the stars."
—Katherine Mansfield, “Her First Ball,” collected in STORIES
On that occasion I began by telling him how dissatisfied I was with the idea that Life must be a lesser thing than we were capable of imagining it to be. I had the feeling that the same thing happened to nearly everybody whom I knew and whom I did not know. No sooner was their youth, with the little force and impetus characteristic of youth, done, then they stopped growing. At the very moment that one felt that now was the time to gather oneself together, to use one’s whole strength, to take control, to be an adult, in fact, they seemed content to swap the darling wish of their hearts for innumerable little wishes. Or the image that suggested itself to me was that of a river flowing away in countless little trickles over a dark swamp.
They deceived themselves, of course. They called this trickling away—greater tolerance—wider interests—a sense of proportion—so that work did not rule out the possibility of ‘life.’ Or they called it an escape from all this mind-probing and self-consciousness—a simpler and therefore a better way of life. But sooner or later, in literature at any rate, there sounded an undertone of deep regret. There was an uneasiness, a sense of frustration. One heard, one thought one heard, the cry that began to echo in one’s own being: “I have missed it. I have given up. This is not what I want. If this is all, then Life is not worth living.”
—Katherine Mansfield, Journal of Katherine Mansfield, ed. John Middleton Murry (via woodsaddle)
On the anniversary of her death, a celebration of Mansfield’s great talent.