Claire Tomalin: Katherine Mansfield, a Secret Life

Katherine Mansfield: a secret life - by Claire Tomalin

That I love the work of Katherine Mansfield probably is apparent from the way I've rattled on in this blog.How I wish for a new biography of this doomed and brilliant miniaturist! In the meantime, I recommend this 1987 work by Claire Tomalin.

Tomalin can always be counted on for clarity and an unbiased rendition of a life. In the case of Katherine Mansfield, both must have been difficult. Not only did Mansfield try on various personae and artistic identities, not only did she hide and lie about some of her past - she even changed her name several times, finally alighting on the name we know today.

She was, for her times, more sexually adventurous than many. Her early lovers may have included women. Some of the physical suffering she endured before her death from tuberculosis may have been the result of an STD she contracted, relatively early in her life.

Even as her strength ebbed, she flung herself into her art and the artistic life, socializing with such luminaries as Lady Ottoline, Virginia Woolf, and Aldous Huxley. She and her odious husband lived with the volatile D.H. Lawrence and Frieda Lawrence for a tumultuous period. (Lawrence later based two characters in Women in Love on Mansfield and Lady Ottoline.) Her stories, crystalline and (sometimes) bitter, caught the attention of Virginia Woolf, who considered Mansfield her only true literary threat.

Mansfield's death in the enclave of the mystical Gurdjieff was part of a desperate search for a cure when conventional medicine failed her. Tomalin takes the reader through the last days and last hopes with the dispassionate details that make Mansfield's decisions tragically clear.

Tomalin's biography brought me closest to feeling that I was in the presence of this complicated woman. I recommend it to all who love Mansfield, and all who admire a good biography.

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