Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and D.H. Lawrence

Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and D.H. Lawrence

Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and D.H. Lawrence

Circulating Genius: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and D.H. Lawrence


'A significant contribution to modernist studies, Professor Kaplan's timely investigation of the Mansfield-Murry-Lawrence triangle illuminates their previously under-researched creative relationships. Her ability to convey the humour and drama of her subject and her fine scholarship are equally engaging.'

Delia da Sousa Correa, Editor, Katherine Mansfield Studies

'We may have thought that pretty much everything had been garnered about that tangled triangle of D. H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, and Middleton Murry. Not so. After Kaplan, one is looking freshly, more deeply, at how these extraordinary personalities circled and feinted, landed their punches and reconciled. Most surprisingly, she makes her case for restoring Murry to his rightful place in that trio, free from the condescension that has obscured him for generations. Mansfield and Lawrence too emerge in a new light. What Kaplan does is to present a key moment in British Modernism as a vivid, living, personal exchange.'

Vincent O'Sullivan, Victoria University, Wellington and co-editor of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield

The relationship between the personal lives of writers and the works they produce is at the heart of this intriguing new study. In particular, it reconsiders the place of John Middleton Murry (1889-1957) in the development of literary modernism in Britain. Drawing on Murry's unpublished journals and long-forgotten novels, Circulating Genius examines his significance as a 'circulator' of ideas, reputations and critical positions in his roles of editor, literary critic, novelist, friend and lover and complicates the arguments of earlier biographers and critics about his relationships - both personal and professional - with Katherine Mansfield and D. H. Lawrence.


There must be a certain perversity in writing a book centred on John Middleton Murry (1889–1957), the editor and critic who was once called ‘the best-hated man of letters’ (L: 213). After all, didn’t Virginia Woolf name him ‘the one vile man I have ever known’ (LVW 4: 312)? and wasn’t he supposed to be the infamous editor Burlap in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point? and didn’t D. H. Lawrence once call him ‘an obscene bug sucking my life away’ (RDHL: 79)? There was something about Murry that alienated people and even his supporters have prefaced their remarks (as I do here), with qualifications. I must admit that I used to go along with the general critical opinion and even contributed my share to his bad reputation in Katherine Mansfield and the Origins of Modernist Fiction (1991), by objecting to his behaviour as her husband and literary executor. Like most Mansfield critics, I found it easy to use Murry as her negative counterpoint.

For years I had been so absorbed in Katherine Mansfield’s writing that I had not interrogated her reactions to Murry sufficiently. I had pored over her letters; read biographies, critical studies and memoirs by friends and acquaintances; and travelled to New Zealand to study her notebooks at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. As it happened, Murry’s letters to Mansfield, which had not yet been published, were also housed at the Turnbull Library. Reading through them, I must even then have had an inkling that perhaps I had passed judgment on Murry too quickly. I remember that I was surprised by the frequency of his responses to her letters, and that seemed to belie her claim that he was neglecting her by not corresponding. Moreover, many of his letters were sensitive, warm and moving in ways I had not expected. Nonetheless, since my focus was the writing and not the life of Mansfield, I could easily put my unresolved questions about Murry aside. I did not anticipate that I would ever return to them.

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