'Katherine Mansfield Today' Blog

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What was KM thinking and writing 90 years ago today? The ‘KM blog’ posts daily extracts of her letters and notebooks written almost 90 years ago...
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9 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Katherine Mansfield died from a haemorrhage at eleven o'clock on the night of 9 January 1923, soon after the arrival of her husband, John Middleton Murry, for his first visit to the Prieuré. She was buried at the cemetery at Fontainebleau, where her gravestone reads:

     KATHERINE MANSFIELD
              WIFE OF
   JOHN MIDDLETON MURRY
            1888 - 1923
     BORN AT WELLINGTON
           NEW ZEALAND
           DIED AT AVON

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8 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   My blue wool dress is in large holes. Those cashmir cardigans look as if rats have gnawed them. As to my fur coat - its like a wet London cat. The last time I was in the stable I caught one of the goats nibbling it. How are you off for clothes? Would you like brown corduroys? That big woman Miss Marston whom you took such a fancy to, wore them. She got thems from Barkers - outsize - 35/- They are breeks and a smock & long plain coat. Very practical.
   Write and tell me how you are will you? Dear Ida?
   Our calf is still allowed to be with its Mother. I can't understand it. Its a huge creature now. We had great trouble with the mother who had to be massaged daily. Do you massage your cows? Will you tell me how your stable is kept? What is the condition of the floor. I'll tell you about ours in my next letter. It worries me.
                          With love from
                                  K.M.[To Ida Baker, unsent, early January 1923.]

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7 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   Do you kill pigs where you are? It goes on here. Two were stuck yesterday and their horrid corpses were dissected in the kitchen. They are frightful things to watch and to smell. The worst of it is until their heads are cut off they are still so pig like. But we kill them outright. That is one comfort.
   I am looking for signs of spring already. Under the espalier pear trees there are wonderful Xmas roses which I saw for the first time this year. They reminded me of Switzerland, and somebody found four primroses the other day. I have moods when I simply pine for the S. of France or somewhere like Majorka. When this time is over I shall make for the South or the East & never go North again. [To Ida Baker, unsent, early January 1923.]

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6 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dear Ida
   I have purposely not written to you before because I felt you wanted me to disappear. . .for a little. I was right, wasn't I? But you have been in my mind today. How are you? How are the cows? As you see I am sending you 100 francs. Play with it. I don't want it. Until your financial position improves its no good minding taking any small sums I can send you. And as I have lost my money complex you can take them quite freely.
   Very much is happening here. We are in the throes of theatre building which ought to be ready by the New Year (Russian style) on January 13th. Its going to be a most marvellous place. Mr Gurdjieff has bought 63 carpets for it & the same number of fur rugs. The carpets which were displayed one by one in the salon last night are like living things - worlds of beauty. And what a joy to begin to learn which is a garden, which a café, which a prayer mat, which l'histoire de ses troupeaux and so on. My thoughts are full of carpets and Persia and Samarkand and the little rugs of Baluchistan. [To Ida Baker, unsent, early January 1923.]

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5 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dearest Marie & Jeanne
   I am seizing the last moments of the old year to write to you, for I cannot let it depart without a letter from me. I have been such a very bad correspondent lately. I am only too painfully aware of it. But it was awfully difficult to write. There seemed nothing to say. Were I to attempt to describe my present surroundings and way of life it would all sound like a dream, and I have for the moment no interests outside it.
   As you know I came here for a ‘cure' but its not a ‘cure' in any ordinary sense of the word. The cure consists in leading as full and as different a life as possible, in entering into as many new interests as possible, in taking up all kinds of new things of every sort and description. Purely medical treatment there is none, as we understand it, or not enough to mention.
   We are about 50-60, mainly Russians established here in a colony, and leading a very particular kind of communal life. [To Charlotte Beauchamp Perkins and Jeanne Beauchamp Renshaw, unsent 31 December 1922.]

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4 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   But such grand flights being impossible I burned what boats I had and came here where I am living with about fifty to sixty people, mainly Russians. It is a fantastic existence, impossible to describe. One might be anywhere - in Bokhara or Tiflis or Afghanistan (except alas! for the climate!). But even the climate does not seem to matter so much when one is whirled along at such a rate. For we do most decidedly whirl. But I cannot tell you what a joy it is to me to be in contact with living people who are strange and quick and not ashamed to be themselves. It's a kind of supreme airing to be among them.
   But what nonsense this all sounds. That is the worst of letters; they are fumbling things.
   I haven't written a word since October and I don't mean to until the spring. I want much more material, I am tired of my little stories like birds bred in cages.
   But enough. Dear Elizabeth, I have not thanked you even for the Enchanted April. It is a delectable book; the only other person who could have written it is Mozart.
   My [word missing], from the moment they arrived in Italy had a separate blissful existence of its own. How do you write like that? How? How?
   Do you see John, I wonder? He sounds very happy and serene - Life is a mysterious affair!
   Goodbye, my dearest Cousin. I shall never know anyone like you; I shall remember every little thing about you for ever.
                       Lovingly yours,
                           Katherine. [To Elizabeth, Countess Russell, 31 December 1922.]

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3 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

Dearest Elizabeth,
   Here is the £100 you lent me. I am sending it, as you see, at the last last moment while the old year is in the very act of turning up his toes.
   I wish I could explain why I have not written to you for so long. It is not for lack of love. But such a black fit came on me in Paris when I realised that X-ray treatment wasn't going to do any more than it had done beyond upsetting my heart still more that I gave up everything and decided to try a new life altogether. But this decision was immensely complicated with ‘personal' reasons too. When I came to London from Switzerland I did (Sydney [Waterlow] was right so far) go through what books and undergraduates call a spiritual crisis, I suppose. For the first time in my life everything bored me. Everything and worse everybody seemed a compromise, and so flat, so dull, so mechanical. If I had been well I should have rushed off to darkest Africe or the Andes or the Ganges or wherever it is one rushes at those times, to try for a change of heart (one can't change one's heart in public) and to gain new impressions. For it seems to me we live on new impressions - really new ones. [To Elizabeth, Countess Russell, 31 December 1922.]

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2 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

   We had a very quiet Christmas here, as the Russian Christmas is not until January 6th. Their New Year is on January 13th. What a frightful bother! Christmas, in any case, is no fun away from ones own people. I seldom want to make merry with strangers, and that particular feast is only enjoyable because of its childish associations. I remember us all going to St Paul's and Mother's enjoyment of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." And that makes me think of darling Leslie still a child, enjoying everything. Such memories do not make for gaiety.
   I see by the papers I have received that my last book is nominated for the Vie Heureuse French Literary Prize as the former one was. It has no chance of success, for the French never take short stories "seriously". However, it is a good advertisement and costs nothing.
   Jack still sounds very happy and busy, dividing his time between the country and London, with a strong bias in favour of the country. I do wish the English climate were more temperate and that I could look forward to settling down there. But the idea of settling is to me what it seemed to be to grandpa Beauchamp. Only I am driven where he went willingly.
   My new book will not be out before the spring. I am still a little undecided about the title. I feel the choice of titles ought to be studied as a separate art. [To Harold Beauchamp, 31 December 1922.]

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1 January 1923

La Prieuré, Fontainebleau, Avon

My dearest Father
   I am writing this letter when the old year is at his last gasp and in the very act of turning up his toes! May the New Year be full of happiness for you. I wish I could imagine we might meet in it but perhaps in the one after I shall be fortunate enough to turn towards home and to see you at the Grange. It is a dream I would love to realise.
   Since I last wrote I have been leading a very tame semi-existence here. My heart, under this new treatment, which is one of graduated efforts and exercise, feels decidedly stronger, and my lungs in consequence feel quieter, too. Its a remarkable fact that since arriving here I have not had to spend one entire day in bed - an unprecedented record for me! I feel more and more confident that if I can give this treatment a fair trial - as I intend to do - and stay on for six months at least, I shall be infinitely stronger in every way. More I do not venture to say.
   Did I tell you in my last letter that the people here have had built a little gallery in the cowshed with a very comfortable divan and cushions. And I lie there for several hours each day to inhale the smell of the cows. It is supposed to be a sovereign remedy for the lungs. I feel I must look a great pa-woman, perched up aloft. But the air is wonderfully light and sweet to breathe, and I enjoy the experience. I feel inclined to write a book called "The Cowiness of the Cow" as a result of observing them at such close quarters. [To Harold Beauchamp, 31 December 1922.]

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