09th January 2023

Remembering Katherine Mansfield a Century after her Death

Katherine Mansfield died a hundred years ago at The Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, Fontainebleau, France, after running up a flight of stairs in high spirits following time spent with her husband John Middleton Murry paying her a visit. Perhaps it was over exertion in a frail body, ravaged by illness, or just a time to rest from the pain of corrupted lungs no longer able to sustain this bright light? Whatever is was; on the 9th January 1923 she suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage, collapsed, and died: to be buried in a paupers grave as her husband had failed to pay the funeral expenses. Later, her family had her casket moved to what has remained her resting place ever since, at Avon, Sein-et-Marne. She was 34 years old when her life in the body came to an end: she had led a colourful life, her muse and intimate school friend had been Maata Mahupuku (10th April 1890-15th January 1952), and she had been part of the Bloomsbury Group;  her body of work cementing her place with the greatest short story writers of the 20th century. She had been born out of a storm on the 14th October 1888; diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis in December 1917 when she was 29, and desired that the epitaph upon her grave stone would be from Henry IV and her favourite Shakespeare quote;“BUT I TELL YOU MY LORD FOOL OUT OF THIS NETTLE DANGER WE PLUCK THE FLOWER, SAFETY.

It is not the intention of this remembrance to regurgitate information already out there in the public domain: on the contrary; its purpose is to provide a sign post or three in the direction of what is already in place, to celebrate the memory of an extraordinarily interesting, and talented short story writer, poet, and what appears to be, in conversation with A R Orage, editor of the New Age, and pupil of and ambassador for G I Gurdjieff; an artist who was developing a consciousness of increased understanding: her mentor A R Orage observed this. From the Gurdjieff Club website under the title ‘A R ORAGE TALKS WITH KATHERINE MANSFIELD AT FONTAINBLEAU The Century Magazine November 1924 (short quote from the piece, A R Orage begins) “One day shortly before her death, she sent for me to come to her room; she had something very important to tell me. When I arrived, she was in high spirits. Her face shone as if she had been on Sinai.”

“What is it Katherine I asked? What makes you so happy?

“I’ve found my idea” she said “I’ve got it at last. It arose of course out of personal experience”

There is also a documentary available on YouTube called ‘A Portrait of Katherine Mansfield’ presented by Catherine Wilkin with the voice over of Katherine Mansfield by Ilona Rogers and written and directed by Julienne Stretton. The documentary also includes music scored and arranged by Thomas DeHartman; written in conjunction with G I Gurdjieff. There is also an excellent book called Gurdjieff and Mansfield by James Moore (Routledge and Keegan Paul) which gives an objective account of Katherine Mansfield’s journey to Le Prieure just outside Paris; this book sets the record straight in many ways against spurious reports of her last days from many of the bohemian intelligentsia of the day. The Lol Cooper Band poem ‘A Scapeshifter also alludes to this type of fake news; as a poignant reminder of some of the misleading yellow journalism of our current epoch. A Scapeshifter uses the template of T S Elliots ‘The Wasteland’ published in 1922. T S Elliot was a contemporary of Katherine Mansfield in the modernist genre, though they may not of seen eye to eye on all occasions, both of these artists had creative spirits, and in their own ways were troubled individuals in their youth and young adulthood, yet both were touched by genius, and major figures in early twentieth century literature. Part 3 of the Lol Cooper Band poem ‘A Scapeshifter’ is called ‘Garden Party’ which is a play on the Katherine Mansfield classic 1922 short story ‘The Garden Party.’ ‘A Scapeshifter is also available on YouTube with a video for those interested in the symbiotic relationship between music, poetry, verse and narrative, going back over the last one hundred and one years, with connections to historical periods near and far. The YouTube video is worth a look, along with the documentary, and the A R Orage interview, all free to the ear and eye. If any of that is of interest then try to procure the James Moore book. On the 100th anniversary of Katherine Mansfield’s birth, James Moore gained permission from Jeanne de Salzman, to take film footage of the Fourth Way Movements, choreographed by the Black Greek teacher of temple dance, to New Zealand, to celebrate her birth, and share the footage with the New Zealand academia of the 1980’s, who it seems, in the event, according to James Moore; were not at all moved by the intensity of the vibration of energies, which are present in these sacred dances; perhaps as they say; it’s best not to pass pearls to pigs. Katherine Mansfield is said to have worked to visualise and assimilate, in the last weeks of her life, these movements, which she wrote about in her diaries; published by her impecunious husband, as his own literary career floundered. Her favourite dance being ‘Initiation of a Priestess’ with the priestess danced by Julia Ostrowskaya; who would herself die young at the age of thirty seven. In summary: if you only read one Katherine Mansfield book, you won’t go far wrong with the beautifully crafted ‘The Garden Party’ written by a woman who could mentally photograph the images she took in, and then convert the mental picture into wonderfully descriptive narrative, in a way that conveyed the best of both. The poet Walter de la Mare is said to have spoken of her dedication to the truth, an apposite trait in an institute opened by a member of the Seekers of truth.