Journal of Katherine Mansfield

Should you trust the journal of an author edited and released by her husband a few years after her death? (Answer? No. See addendum at very end.) Murry’s gotten a lot of flak over the years for supposedly exploiting KM by releasing her journal, but I’m glad we have something, even if it’s an edited version. I wonder if he stripped any bits about Woolf out, specifically because I’m on the hunt for traces of their relationship, the Woolves being the high-powered literary couple that perhaps he did not want to anger. Virginia writes in a letter to Vita her reactions upon reading KM’s Journal: “I’ve been reading KM with a mixture of sentiment and horror. What odd friends I’ve had – you and she.” (5 Aug 1927) I’ve yet to get to her diary reaction, perhaps there’s more gold there. Lounsberry notes that the “horror” was likely driven by Mansfield’s revealed religious bent.

At any rate, this Journal covers the last eight years of Katherine Mansfield life as she struggles with illness (pleurisy, consumption) and with getting all the writing done that she had in her.

March 31, 1914: A splendid fine morning, but as I know I have to go out and change the cheque and pay the bills, I can do nothing and I feel wretched. Life is a hateful business, there’s no denying it. When G and J were talking in the Park of physical well-being and of how they could still look forward to ‘parties,’ I nearly groaned. And I am sure J could get a great deal of pleasure out of pleasant society. I couldn’t. I’ve done with it, and can’t combat it at all now. I had so much rather lean idly over the bridge and watch the boats and the free, unfamiliar people and feel the wind blow. No, I hate society.

May 16, 1915: I bought a book by Henry James yesterday and read it, as they say, ‘until far into the night.’ It was not very interesting or very good, but I can wade through pages and pages of dull, turgid James for the sake of that sudden sweet shock, that violent throb of delight that he gives me at times. I don’t doubt this is genius: only there is an extraordinary amount of pan and an amazingly raffiné flash – One thing I want to annotate. His hero, Bernard Longueville, brilliant, rich, dark, agile, etc., though a witty companion, is perhaps wittiest and most amused when he is alone, and preserves his best things for himself… All the attributive adjectives apart I am witty, I know, and a good companion – but I feel my case is exactly like his – the amount of minute and delicate joy I get out of watching people and things when I am alone is simply enormous – I really only have ‘perfect fun’ with myself… Life with other people becomes a blur: it does with J, but it’s enormously valuable and marvellous when I’m alone, the detail of life, the life of life.

Feb 13, 1916: I have written practically nothing yet, and now again the time is getting short… I keep half-doubting my will to perform anything… Why do I hesitate so long? Is it just idleness? Lack of will-power? Yes, I feel that’s what it is, and that’s why it’s so immensely important that I should assert myself… This year I have to make money and get known. I want to make enough money to be able to give LM some [Lesley Moore/Ida Baker]. In fact, I want to provide for her. That’s my idea, and to make enough so that J and I shall be able to pay our debts and live honourably.

Feb 19, 1918: I don’t want to be ill… I don’t want to find this is real consumption, perhaps it’s going to gallop – who knows?  – and I shan’t have my work written. That’s what matters. How unbearable it would be to die – leave ‘scraps,’ ‘bits,’ nothing real finished.

May 22, 1918: [Looe, Cornwall, England] The sea here is real sea. It rises and falls with a loud noise, has a long, silky roll on it as though it purred, seems sometimes to climb half up into the sky and you see the sail boats perched upon clouds – like flying cherubs.

July 1918: I pose myself, yet once more, my Eternal Question. What is it that makes the moment of delivery so difficult for me? If I were to sit down – now – and just to write out, plain, some of the stories – all written, all ready, in my mind ‘twould take me days. There are so many of them. I sit and think them out and if I overcome my lassitude and do take the pen they ought (they are so word perfect) to write themselves… Whenever I have a conversation about Art which is more or less interesting I begin to wish to God I could destroy all that I have written and start again: it all seems like so many ‘false starts.’ Oh how badly this is expressed! How confused and even ungrammatical!

May 19, 1919: I really only ask for time to write it all – time to write my books. Then I don’t mind dying. I live to write. The lovely world (God, how lovely the external world is!) is there and I bathe in it and am refreshed. But I feel as though I had a DUTY, someone has set me a task which I am bound to finish. Let me finish it: let me finish it without hurrying – leaving all as fair as I can.

May 31, 1919: Shall I be able to express one day my love of work – my desire to be a better writer – my longing to take greater pains. And the passion I feel. It takes the place of religion – it is my religion – of people – I create my people: of ‘life’ – it is Life.

June 21, 1919: I have consumption. There is still a great deal of moisture (and pain) in my BAD lung. But I do not care. I do not want anything I could not have. Peace, solitude, time to write my books, beautiful external life to watch and ponder – no more. O, I’d like a child as well – a baby boy; mais je demande trop! [This confused me… it seems from her stories and letters that she’s pretty anti-child]

Feb 29, 1920: Oh, to be a writer, a real writer given up to it and to it alone! Oh, I failed today; I turned back, looked over my shoulder, and immediately it happened, I felt as though I too were struck down. The day turned cold and dark on the instant. It seemed to belong to summer twilight in London, to the clang of the gates as they close the garden, to the deep light painting the high houses, to the smell of leaves and dust, to the lamp-light, to that stirring of the senses, to the languor of twilight, the breath of it on one’s cheek, all those things which (I feel today) are gone from me for ever… I feel today that I shall die soon and suddenly: but not of my lungs. There are moments when Dickens is possessed by this power of writing: he is carried away. That is bliss. It certainly is not shared by writers today.

August 1921:  “I have been writing a story about an old man.” She looked vague. “But I don’t think I like old men—do you?” said she. “They exude so.” This horrified me. It seemed so infernally petty, and more than that… it was the saying of a vulgar little mind. Later: I think it was shyness.

January 2, 1922: I have not done the work I should have done. I shirk the lunch party [see The Doves’ Nest]. This is very bad. In fact I am disgusted with myself. There must be a change from now on. What I chiefly admire in Jane Austen is that what she promises, she performs, i.e. if Sir T is to arrive, we have his arrival at length, and it’s excellent and exceeds our expectations. This is rare; it is also my very weakest point. Easy to see why…

Added notes once I read about Murry’s treatment of the material:

Barbara Lounsberry: “Although readers must be grateful for Murry’s devotion and skill in translating Mansfield’s almost illegible hand, the 1927 Journal is astonishingly unreliable and self-serving. It also serves Mansfield in a misguided way, for it projects an image of a purse soul, a saintly suffering mystic, that in the full spread of her notebooks and papers proves simple, sentimental, and false.” Later she notes that Murry’s 1927 version has been “discredited and supplanted” by The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks by Margaret Scott, but that the version is a “curious yet brilliant monument to reputation-making, to a husband’s mythologizing a dead wife.”

She notes that Murry claimed KM destroyed all record of the time between 1909 and 1914 when in reality he had four notebooks and many unbound pages from that time period. Comparing Margaret Scott’s complete version of the Notebooks with Murry’s whitewashed version, he left out his loss of status in her eyes and her unhappiness with him. To wit, this has been excised: “How little Jack shares with me… He ought not to have married. There never was a creature less fitted by nature for life with a woman.” In another passage, he leaves out “I do not trust Jack.”