The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield

By Jan Pilditch | Go to book overview

fatal sign! And on the third reading--but is there a third? One can not dine on the iridescent.

The Freeman, June 21, 1922, vol. 5, p. 357.


Raymond Mortimer, Review of The Dove's Nest and Other Stories

The lamentable death of Miss Katherine Mansfield at the age of thirty-four added one more shelf, possibly an important one, to the tragic library of unwritten books. Round the ceiling of this library are written in great mosaic letters many names that are unknown to us, for its catalogue records the works of those that never waked to ecstasy the living lyre. There, too, are the plays of Marlowe's maturity, the real masterpieces of Collins, the more important writings of Keats and Shelley, the poems Coleridge never finished, and those that Rimbaud never began. That Katherine Mansfield's work would have improved seems likely-- she was always a conscientious artist, and one whose eyes remained intensely young and alive to every sight they met. The newly published posthumous volume contains six finished and fifteen unfinished stories. There is no new weakness in them, and they will be read by every admirer of her writing; but it is not, I think, possible by comparing them with her earlier work to discover in what direction, if any, her talent was developing. Upon the thirty stories contained in Bliss and The Garden Party her rank as a writer of fiction must now always depend, and I cannot believe that her artistic reputation will ever stand higher than it does at present. The detail of her observation, the sharpness of her phrase, and the play of her fancy are remarkable, and must give pleasure to most of those who care about writing. But the peculiar characteristics of her art were her use of Tchekhov and her gift for seeing others as they see themselves. That Tchekhov was a very great story-writer and the greatest of modern dramatists seems to me as certain as any aesthetic judgment of contemporary work can be. But there are moments, there are even months, when his influence on English writers appears positively disastrous. If the members of the London Group all began painting in the manner of Gontcharova and Larionoff the result would hardly be more unfortunate. Of course, this confession would enable counsel to challenge my presence on any jury sitting on the work of Katherine Mansfield. But the criticism of fiction being unluckily so much more a matter of personal judgment than is the criticism of historical or scientific work, it is unfair, if not impossible, to hide one's prejudices. In any case the critic is not really a juryman so much as a counsel for those with similar feelings to himself. And there must be many who admire Tchekhov and yet deplore the use of his methods, save in very few cases, by Western Europeans. Tchekhov was endowed with a miraculous sensibility, rather like the "touch" of a great painter, which made of every dab he used to compose his stories a thing of beauty and significance. Even so he depends to a perilous extent in his plays upon the actors, and in his stories upon the readers. But in his hands, so exquisite was his touch, masses of detail spring together to

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