Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf: A Public of Two

Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf: A Public of Two

Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf: A Public of Two

Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf: A Public of Two

Synopsis

Long after the death of Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) described being haunted by Mansfied in dreams. Through detailed comparative readings of their fiction, letters, and diaries, Angela Smith explores the intense affinity between the two writers. Writing at a time when the First World War and the changing attitudes towards empire problematized definitions of foreignness, the fiction of both Mansfield and Woolf is characterized by moments in which the perceiving consciousness sees the familiar made strange, the domestic made menacing.

Excerpt

This book began when I first read C. K. Stead's Penguin selection of Katherine Mansfield's letters and journals and was dazzled by their mixture of wit, intensity, and insight into modernity. Her anxiety about reviewing Virginia Woolf Night and Day produced a brilliant, oblique comment about her own fiction, and about her peculiar position as both an insider and an outsider in London's literary world. When the volumes of the Clarendon edition of Mansfield's letters appeared, from 1984, contextualized with scholarly care by Vincent O'Sullivan and Margaret Scott, the rapport and intimacy as well as the jealousy and malice of Mansfield's relationship with Virginia Woolf intrigued me and I began to read their fictions in conjunction with their personal writings to try to understand what Woolf's professional reasons were for persisting with what was evidently, in many ways, a prickly and difficult friendship.

I propose an explanation for their affinity in the first chapter on liminality. The following two chapters are biographical in that they trace liminal experience through the personal writings of the two women, revealing similarities that mould their fiction: attitudes to time and memory; to childlessness and loss; to lifethreatening disease; to sexuality; to being married to editors, and to artistic experiment. The main focus of the book is then on aspects of their fiction and on the two writers' particular inflection of modernism, considering how they embodied in their fictional techniques their own responses to the impact on their imaginations of their creative context, particularly Post-Impressionism in painting, and the cinema.

The quality and quantity of critical writing on Katherine Mansfield is significantly lower than that on Virginia Woolf, though there are notable exceptions, such as the essays in two fairly recent collections, Katherine Mansfield: In from the Margin, edited byRoger Robinson, and The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield . . .

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