The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield

By Jan Pilditch | Go to book overview

Jeffrey Meyers, "Katherine Mansfield's 'To Stanislaw Wyspianski'"

Katherine Mansfield's elegy on the Polish painter and playwright, "To Stanislaw Wyspianski," was not included in the collection of her Poems which Middleton Murry rushed into print ten months after her death in November 1923. Fifteen years later, in 1938, the poem was privately printed by the London bookseller, Bertram Rota, in a limited edition of one hundred copies. Though all scholars have accepted this eight-page, grey-covered pamphlet as the first publication of Mansfield's longest poem, it was, in fact, translated by Floryan Sobieniowski and first published on December 26, 1910 in the Literary Supplement of the Warsaw Weekly Gazety Poniedzialkowej (Monday Newspaper). This hitherto unidentified Polish version, Mansfield's third published poem, 1 was accompanied by Floryan's introduction, the first critical essay on her work. An understanding of Mansfield's relations with Floryan will place her poem and his introduction in a clearer perspective.

Mansfield met Floryan and wrote this poem while living in Wörishofen--a cheap and conveniently obscure spa, fifty miles west of Munich and 2000 feet high in the Bavarian Alps--from June 1909 until January 1910. In the summer of 1909, she gave birth to a premature and stillborn infant, the illegitimate child of the New Zealand musician, Garnet Trowell. She struggled against the tempting oblivion of barbiturates and in the wretched circumstances of her convalescence wrote the bitter and satiric stories, In a German Pension ( 1911).

Mansfield, using the German she had learned at Queen's College, became acquainted with a group of literary émigrés (who had planned journals which would publish translations of her stories) and had an affair with the charming but untrustworthy Floryan. I have recently discovered some illuminating information about this shadowy and sinister figure in her life.

Floryan Sobieniowski was born in 1881 in southeastern Poland, then under Russian domination, belonged to the impoverished landed gentry, was educated at Cracow University, and studied aesthetics and art history in Munich and Paris from 1909 until 1911. He had a wonderful voice, a fine repertoire of Slavic songs, and a profound interest in the dramatic poet, Stanislaw Wyspianski ( 1869- 1907), who had recently died of syphilis in Poland. Floryan, who was a drama critic in Cracow during 1911-1912, met Bernard Shaw in late 1912, obtained the Polish rights to Pygmalion, and eventually translated forty-two of Shaw's plays. He was always in financial difficulty and frequently pressed Shaw for money; but these demands merely irritated the playwright who constantly chided him for his lack of responsibility. Floryan ignored these admonitions and characteristically sold the letters from Shaw that portrayed him unfavorably. He lived in London from 1913 to 1929 and died in Cracow in 1964.

When Floryan had to leave Wörishofen, he arranged to meet Mansfield in Munich and travel with her to Poland and Russia. Though she looked forward to seeing him and wrote him enthusiastic and loving letters, they quarrelled in Munich, and she returned alone to England in January 1910. But their separation

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