The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield

By Jan Pilditch | Go to book overview

Again, her quarrel with Mr. Walpole is that he is animated by "determination rather than inspiration, strength of will rather than the artist's compulsion." With great labour and skill he can bring his horses to the mysterious water--but they will not drink for him. It is instructive to turn from her opinion of Mr. Walpole to that of Louis Couperus, whose Old People and Things That Pass were translated into English in 1919. Here was another novelist of family life who knew his creatures and who is not, as one frequently feels with Mr. Walpole, all the time trying to get hold of them. The Dutch novelist's people are seen in relation to life - "not to a part of life, not to a set of society, but to the bounding horizon, life." And neither is life made to "fit" them. The novelist who attempts to "fit" life to his characters "will find himself cutting something that gets smaller and smaller, finer and finer, until he must begin cutting his character next to fit the thing he has made."

In the rightness of these words one senses the limitations of Katherine Mansfield's austerity. The ready affinity of her sharp spirit with that of the Russians alienated her from the genial or the polite English tradition. What her spirit had in terrifying penetration it lacked in confident magnitude. She was essentially a creature of our age. One thinks of her intelligence as one thinks of feline claws, a sharp and beautiful mechanism, sliding out of their subtle velvet, now playfully, now with luxurious motion, now passionately, but always private in their impulse.

The Spectator, September 6, 1930, vol. 145, p. 315.


Elisabeth Schneider, "Katherine Mansfield and Chekhov"

The influence of Chekhov on Katherine Mansfield has often been remarked. She herself freely expressed admiration and a feeling of kinship for her Russian predecessor. Her husband, Mr. J. Middleton Murry in his edition of her Journal, however, says that critics over-estimate her debt to Chekhov, and that her literary development would have been much the same had she never read his stories.

This may well be true. Yet a remarkable parallel is to be found between one of her early short stories, "The Child-Who-Was-Tired" from the volume In a German Pension, and a story of Chekhov's called, in its English versions, "Sleepyhead" or "Sleepy."1 In "The Life of Katherine Mansfield" by R. E. Mantz and J. Middleton Murry2 the inception of her story is described: "Superficially, it is a realistic story of peasant life; but in essence it is nothing of the kind."

"The Child who was Tired" is indubitably herself in the summer of 1909--the Katherine wearied with pain and crying in vain for rest --'the frightened child lost in a funeral procession.' The peasant household is not any peasant household that Katherine experienced--actually the Bavarian peasants were kind to her, and she liked them--but merely a symbol of her experience of life.

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