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Newly discovered KM story in Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

17 February 2013

A previously unknown story by Katherine Mansfield has been discovered in papers recently made available by the Alexander Turnbull Library.

While reading through the voluminous papers recently acquired by the Turnbull from the estate of Mansfield's husband, John Middleton Murry, leading Mansfield scholar Dr Gerri Kimber identified a number of unknown works by the New Zealand-born author, including one complete story.

“The story is called Sumurun: An Impression of Leopoldine Konstantin,” said Dr Kimber, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Northampton and Co-Editor with Vincent O’Sullivan of the newly published two volume edition of the Collected Fiction of  Katherine Mansfield, published by Edinburgh University Press.

“It’s signed Katharina Mansfield, which dates it to the end of 1910 - early 1911. This was the name she used for A Fairy Story, published in the Open Window in Dec 1910, and also the name she - illegally! - put on her UK 1911 national census form in April 1911.

“Mansfield must have seen Max Reinhardt’s silent play Sumurûn, based on a story from the Arabian Nights, which played to packed houses at the London Coliseum theatre for six weeks from January 1911, with the Austrian actress Leopoldine Konstantin in the title role. Date-wise this is perfect. So I think this piece is a creative impression – as the title says – of the play that she saw.

“We know very little about Mansfield’s life at this time - nearly all signs of which she obliterated. There are dark images and even darker themes in the piece itself, which is probably why Murry never published it in any of his posthumous publications of Mansfield’s work. Open eroticism was the reason for the play’s success as well as its scandalous reputation.

“The Turnbull owns a series of photos of Mansfield from 1911, where I think she may actually be trying to look like Leopoldine.”

Other works discovered by Dr Kimber include nine poems, incomplete fragments of a number of stories, confirmation of a previously doubtfully attributed parody and over a dozen new notebook entries.

The Alexander Turnbull Library (ATL), which is itself part of the National Library of New Zealand within the Department of Internal Affairs, is New Zealand’s most important research library. It also holds the world’s largest collection of Katherine Mansfield’s papers, published works and personal items.

“It’s a great reminder that the Turnbull doesn’t just collect and preserve: it can add to our knowledge and our culture through the work of the many, many researchers, like Dr Kimber, who make use of our facilities,” said Chris Szekely, the ATL’s Chief Librarian. 

For more information contact: Allen Walley, Department of Internal Affairs: 04 495 9351 or 027 384 3009