The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield

By Jan Pilditch | Go to book overview

IV
Consolidation

Margaret Scott, "The Extant Manuscripts of Katherine Mansfield"

When Katherine Mansfield died her manuscripts consisted of 46 notebooks, several boxes of miscellaneous loose papers, and such of her letters as the recipients had chosen to preserve. There must also be, somewhere on American territory, the manuscripts of at least some of her stories for in a letter of 1948 to the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, Middleton Murry wrote 'I sold the MSS of nearly all the stories to U.S.A. in 1938'. Attempts to trace these have so far failed. But Middleton Murry's exchange of letters with the Turnbull Library brought to his notice that New Zealand, although belatedly, had a warm and to some extent proprietorial interest in Katherine Mansfield. The country which had bred her and had become for her insufferably parochial and limiting by the time she was eighteen, was now, if not a little shame-faced, then at least regretful at the immaturity in itself which had driven her away. She had found no climate here for the kind of work she wanted to do, but later writers had stayed and had begun the slow task of creating such a climate. We were no longer as raw and slumbering as when she left us, and we were very awake to what we had lost.

Aware of New Zealand's interest, then, Middleton Murry made a will which stipulated that all the letters of Katherine Mansfield of which he died possessed (approximately 500) were to be offered to the British Museum for £1,000, and after that, if the British Museum did not buy them, to the Alexander Turnbull Library for the same price. The matter arose in 1957 and the British Museum, mentioning insufficient resources, turned the offer down. In those days the Turnbull Library was administered by the Department of Internal Affairs and, despite much good-will, there was pitifully little money for acquisitions. Certainly there was nothing like £1,000 for the letters of a writer to whom England, France, and the U.S.A. all laid some kind of specified or unspecified claim. But she had been born here, spent her childhood here, and derived most of her best material from this country.

New Zealand was stirred. A special Government grant was made and a public appeal was launched by the Friends of the Turnbull Library. The interest was

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