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Katherine Mansfield and Psychology$
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Clare Hanson, Gerri Kimber, and W. Todd Martin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474417532

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474417532.001.0001

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Katherine Mansfield and Vitalist Psychology

Katherine Mansfield and Vitalist Psychology

(p.23) Katherine Mansfield and Vitalist Psychology
Katherine Mansfield and Psychology

Clare Hanson

Edinburgh University Press

This essay argues that the vitalist psychology of William James and particularly Henri Bergson shaped Mansfield’s understanding of the mutability and multiplicity of the self. It suggests that Bergson’s emphasis on the heterogeneity of consciousness finds an echo in the distinctiveness of Mansfield’s characterisation, as she tracks the fluid interplay between different levels and intensities of consciousness. Drawing on the vitalist understanding of personality, it argues that Mansfield tracks the expression and transmission of emotion between characters in terms of affect and involuntary action, disclosing the porosity of the self and its openness to the unpredictability of human interactions. Delving further into Bergson’s account of consciousness, it suggests that Mansfield shares his understanding of the self as caught between a virtual past and a virtual future, transformed moment by moment under the pressure of a past which breaks through into the present and a future which is constitutively unknowable. For Mansfield as for a number of modernist writers, character is framed in terms of a situational self which is responsive to the changing environments in which it finds itself, and consciousness is rendered as endlessly productive of novelty, of that which cannot be predicted from the familiar and already known.

Keywords:   Katherine Mansfield, vitalist psychology, Bergson, affect, virtuality

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