The Fictional Mansfield
I’ve decided to talk about the different authors who’ve used Katherine Mansfield as a fictional character - there are at least 16 novels about her, which seems something of a record for any author - unless someone out there can tell me otherwise. Two of her lovers wrote her into novels, using actual letters and diary entries, then her husband John Middleton Murry wrote 3 novels with KM as the central female character; then D.H. Lawrence cast her as Gudrun in Women in Love and Christopher Isherwood used her as Elizabeth in The World in the Evening.
Since 1940 there has been a further trickle of novels - American novelist Nelia White’s Daughter of Time, C.K. Stead’s Mansfield, Janice Kulyck Keefer’s Thieves, Linda Lappin’s Katherine’s Wish and Joanna Kirkpatrick’s In Pursuit.
Why this fascination? That’s what I’ve been trying to explore. What makes fiction writers choose one character rather than another? Isherwood said that KM’s life conformed to the ancient pattern of narrative tradition - paradise lost, paradise regained. But I also wonder whether it was KM’s enigmatic personality, her fascination with masks, and multiple identities, that intrigued all those authors who set out to explore who she was.
I’m looking forward to staying in Cambridge, which is such a beautiful city - the train is on time, the sun is shining and there are lambs frisking in the fields beside the railway line.