In this new edition of Katherine Mansfield, Saralyn Daly offers a timely and discerning assessment of one of the century's most gifted writers of the short story. Out of fashion with critics when the first edition was published in 1965, Mansfield has since come to be viewed as a major influence on modernist and contemporary fiction. This revived interest shows itself in various forms; a crop of critical studies, mostly from scholars in her native New Zealand; feminist interpretations of her work; and scholarly editions of her poetry, critical writing, and letters, augmented by a collection of letters between the author and her husband, editor and critic John Middleton Murry. All of these new sources, as well as Daly's close study of early drafts of Mansfield's major stories, inform this book.
Mansfield, who died from tuberculosis in 1923 at age 34, wrote often of the inadequacies of personal relationships. She sometimes used her stories to express her feelings to her husband, but his letters exhibit his failure to decode her messages; Mansfield eventually stopped writing her stories "to" or about Murry. This decision, recorded in one of her notebooks, freed her to create her finest work during the last years of her life, beginning with the stories "At the Bay," "The Garden Party," and "The Doll's House" and culminating in "The Daughters of the Late Colonel" and "The Fly."
Mansfield introduced most of her character types - abused children, innocent young women and isolated older women, exploited wives, and overbearing husbands - in her earliest short story collection, In a German Pensione. From the very first she wrote from what she knew; her New Zealand youth, the artistic bohemian world of London, the Continental world in which she convalesced. This choice of subject matter has led biographers to assume her fiction is a direct account of what they perceive to be an unhappy life - an impression that is false, Daly writes, and that was initiated largely by Murry, also Mansfield's literary executor. Mansfield used her memories to compose fiction, but her stories are not literal transcriptions of her experience. In theme, style, and form Mansfield persistently developed her craft. Daly describes the long, painstaking progress that would establish her leadership in short story structure.
While Mansfield's stories reflect the spiritual and artistic malaise of her age, they also represent acts of protest and social criticism. Daly's study gives the reader access to a body of work that for this very dissonance remains a cornerstone of the modernist tradition in fiction.
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