Katherine Mansfield (1888 – 1923) is widely considered to be one of New Zealand’s most important modernist writers.
Born and raised near Wellington, her father, Sir Harold Beauchamp, was the chairman of the Bank of New Zealand, her grandfather was a parliamentary electorate, and her cousin, Countess Elizabeth von Arnim, was also a well-known author. One of five siblings, Mansfield moved to London in 1903, attending Queen’s College in Harley Street with her three sisters. Her intension was to become a professional ‘cellist, but, instead, she became fascinated with literature and wrote numerous articles for the college’s newspaper; this dedication eventually secured the role as magazine editor. Early literary interests included the French Symbolists and Oscar Wilde.
After completing her education, Mansfield briefly returned to New Zealand and started writing in earnest, focusing on short stories and poetry, also working as a reviewer and critic, contributing to a selection of literary magazines such as The New Age and Rhythm. The death of younger brother, Leslie, aged just 20, prompted an outpouring of writing, often nostalgically referring to their childhood. Ahead of her time, Mansfield thrived on specific exploration of such themes as feminism and female sexuality as well as issues relating to human existence particularly death, internal or emotional struggles, loneliness, and poverty.
On moving back to London, she befriended several influential authors and writers including D H Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, as well as the ‘Bloomsbury Group’, a gathering of active literary writers, and she was renowned for her relationships with both men and women. Amongst her most popular collections and stories are The Garden Party (1920), The Daughters of the Late Colonel (1922), Bliss (1918), and Prelude (published in 1918). Mansfield wrote over 100 short stories, as well as journals, letters, and critical writing, and her work has been published in over 25 languages.
A move to Fontainebleau in France towards the end of her life was an attempt to recover from tuberculosis, from which she died aged just 34. Despite this tragically short life-span, Mansfield made a significant impact on the literary world and her legacy comprises copious tributes and commemorations. These include her family home which been preserved as a museum and a memorial park in Thorndon, New Zealand. In Menton, France, where she lived and worked for a while, there is a street named after her, and there are various Katherine Mansfield competitions and literary awards, too. She has even been the subject of a BBC documentary which was filmed in 1973 starring actor Vanessa Redgrave.
Artistic director Sherry Grant, pictured above, has based an art, music, and literary festival on Mansfield’s life and work. KM100NZ took place online this weekend, celebrating 100 years since the writer’s untimely death.
Sherry, originally from Taiwan, is now based in New Zealand, and thrives on developing unusual projects. As a busy musician and writer – she is a poet, pianist, ‘cellist and concert-arranger – Sherry finds the time, space, and energy to create a never-ending series of events. Recent activities demonstrate her love for uniting art, music and the spoken word: projects include the ‘War and Peace’ Arts & Music Festival (May 2019) and ‘100 Years Journey’ Concert Tour (October 2019). Also in 2019, Sherry organised 14 concerts, performing in 12 of them, 10 of which featured principal violists from USA and New Zealand. You can find out more about Sherry and her work, here, and read a recent interview, here.
The festival, which ran from Friday 17th November to Sunday 19th November 2023, featured an impressive line-up of events spotlighting music and words; a combination which I find compelling. Concerts include Catch 23, Katherine Mansfield Centenary Concerts, Child of the Sun, and Girl Power. Many performances were pre-recorded and were interspersed with readings, documentaries, interviews, and panel discussions, involving a whole host of musicians, artists, writers, philosophers, and scholars. The festival was broadcast using Zoom and you can find out more about it, here, and visit Sherry’s YouTube channel, here.
Sherry wrote to me a few months ago, delighted to discover my Women Composers Anthology. She chose to play a piece (Allegretto by Anna Severine Lindeman) from the Book 2 of my series at her whimsically entitled concert ‘Girl Power’; a concert dedicated to highlighting the work of female composers. I gave Sherry an interview about these publications as part of the festival; you can listen to our interview and watch Sherry’s concert by clicking on the two links below.
Read the festival programme here.
Cover image of Katherine Mansfield: Getty
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.