‘The Thing Needed’: Katherine Mansfield, Psychology and Relationships
‘The Thing Needed’: Katherine Mansfield, Psychology and Relationships
Abstract and Keywords
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Sarah Ailwood and Melinda Harvey, eds, Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 227 pp., £70, ISBN 9780748694419
Meghan Marie Hammond, Empathy and the Psychology of Literary Modernism (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 216 pp., £70, ISBN 9780748690985
Janka Kaščáková and Gerri Kimber, eds, Katherine Mansfield and Continental Europe: Connections and Influences (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 282 pp., £55, ISBN 9781137429964
Gerri Kimber, Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 114 pp., £45, ISBN 9781137483874
Anna Plumridge, ed., The Urewera Notebook, by Katherine Mansfield (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 128 pp., £30, ISBN 9781474400152
Facing the dehumanisation caused by growing industrialisation and the existential crisis of the First World War, some authors began to question all but the most superficial human interactions. Others, like Sherwood Anderson, proffered relationships as the only means of not only staving off isolation but also restoring our humanity. In ‘Sophistication’, the penultimate story of Winesburg, Ohio, Anderson’s protagonist, George Willard, momentarily connects emotionally with Helen White. The story concludes: ‘For some reason they could not have explained they (p.190) had both got from their silent evening together the thing needed. Man or boy, woman or girl, they had for a moment taken hold of the thing that makes the mature life of men and women in the modern world possible.’1 The coming together of individuals, distinct as they may be physically and emotionally, provides ‘the thing needed’ to exist more fully in the modern world.
While psychology has tended to emphasise one’s relation to the self, it also explores the extent to which we are relational beings. But while some contend that we are mere physical beings who interact in a material world, others maintain that we have limited human agency which enables us to interpret our external realities. To us literary critics and theorists, these attempts to find patterns in the universe in order to understand how we fit into the world at large – whether we consider that meaning-seeking as spiritual or not – seem tantamount to what we value in literature and what it reveals about ourselves and the state of our world. And if we are more than mere material beings, the implications are profound for our understanding of relationships. Social and physical contact becomes our means of knowing others, and in knowing others we more effectively begin to see our own place in the world around us.
The ability to connect with the ‘other’ is the focus of Meghan Marie Hammond’s book, Empathy and the Psychology of Literary Modernism, in which she focuses on the ‘inner turn’ evident in some modernist writers, a response stemming from some of the same concerns expressed by Anderson, and, like Anderson, the authors she discusses explore the potential of empathising with another. Hammond considers Henry James, Dorothy Richardson, Katherine Mansfield, Ford Madox Ford and Virginia Woolf alongside prominent contemporary thinkers and theorists of empathy (or ‘feeling with’), which she distinguishes from sympathy (or ‘feeling for’). She emphasises techniques authors use to draw others into the minds and experiences of their protagonists, arguing that modernists’ use of ‘internal monologue, stream of consciousness narration, narrative marked by anachrony and fragmentation, and rapidly shifting character focalization’ are used to ‘provide an immediate sense of another’s thoughts and feelings’ and thus establish ‘fellow feeling’ (4).
Of Mansfield, however, Hammond suggests that her ‘character minds always leave our readerly desire to empathise frustrated’ (91), privileging instead Mansfield’s communal focus and shifting perspectives in stories like ‘Prelude’ and ‘At the Bay’. She contends that Mansfield’s narrative process, while approaching the empathic, falls short in that readers’ experiences are mediated by a narrator whose presence precludes (p.191) a full immersion into her protagonists’ experience. In this, she comes into contention with Gerri Kimber’s assessment of Mansfield, as expressed in Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story, in which Kimber notes that one of the reasons Mansfield is appreciated by scholars and general readers alike is that she brings us so completely into the minds of her characters. One way that Mansfield accomplishes this, according to Kimber, is through granting access to the interiority of her characters, particularly via her ‘impressionistic evocations of epiphanic moments’ (5). Noting Mansfield’s rejection of the conventional plot structure and dramatic action and her move toward a more character-driven story, Kimber reveals Mansfield’s interest in the inner life of her characters and how they respond to their circumstances. By revealing the working of her characters’ minds, Mansfield allows the reader to identify with the character through shared experience. But it is the degree of that shared experience that Hammond calls into question.
In Empathy and the Psychology of Literary Modernism, Hammond sets out to explore the influence of psychology on the development of modernism. Her intent is to explore the significance of theorists such as Vernon Lee and E. B. Tichener (he coined the term ‘empathy’ in 1909), who have been generally overlooked in literary studies. Hammond provides an overview of the development of ideas concerning the ability to know another’s mind. She is interested in the way various psychological discourses address a concern with the ‘psychological distance between individuals’ and the attempt to move toward a more subjective understanding of the ‘other’ (3). What is particularly valuable about Hammond’s study is that she provides a new context for understanding the aesthetic shift in the early twentieth century, showing how contemporary trends in psychology helped lay the foundation for the technical innovations of literary modernism.
To demonstrate these influences, Hammond pairs specific authors with specific theorists of empathy and explores how the literary authors’ narrative techniques demonstrate attempts to break down psychological distance, developing a means of thinking and feeling with others. But while Hammond provides valuable context in revealing the ideas of these psychologists and their views concerning the ability to empathise, there are some inconsistencies in whether the kind of empathy being explored in the text is between the author and her characters, the reader and the protagonist, or the protagonist and the other characters. Each is discussed with varying degrees of importance in each chapter, seeming to privilege whichever most effectively conveys the perspective of the given theorists.
(p.192) Further, the shifting perspectives on empathy make her connection with particular authors somewhat arbitrary. In her introduction, for example, she draws on Edith Stein’s definition of empathy as ‘“the experience of foreign consciousness”’ (9) and suggests that to experience empathy is to lose oneself in the new identity. However, as she reveals the various thinkers’ views of empathy, there are obvious variations in the degree to which the theorists believe this can occur. That there are differing perspectives on empathy simply shows the variations of the individual psychologists’ understanding and exploration of the subject; however, this undermines the continuity of Hammond’s application. For example, in her discussion of Ford Madox Ford, Hammond looks at the theories of Vernon Lee and, in particular, her theory of aesthetic empathy, which is ‘similar to the process in which “we ‘put ourselves […] in the skin’ of a fellow creature … attributing to him the feelings we should have in similar circumstances”’ (122). However, something similar is dismissed in the previous chapter, in which Hammond discusses Mansfield alongside Max Scheler. Scheler rejects Theodor Lipps’s notion that ‘what the in-feeler brings to the object is key to shaping his experience in the object’ (71), because Scheler ‘disregards the long-prevailing theory that sympathy works by analogy’ and ‘fixates on the idea that Lipps’s empathy works primarily through projection. For Scheler, the fundamental danger of empathy as projection is that it leads us to “impute our own experience to others”’ (93).
The problem is not, of course, that the theorists have conflicting views of empathy and how it works but that Hammond pairs each theorist alongside an author whom she suggests is best understood by that particular perspective. Doing so, however, seems a little disingenuous, especially as there is no direct influence or connection between the theorists discussed and the individual authors. The result limits an understanding of some of the authors’ perspectives on empathy. For example, Hammond considers how Mansfield approaches the inner territory of some of her characters’ minds but, privileging the narrative structures of her later stories like ‘Prelude’ and ‘At the Bay’, Hammond focuses her discussion on Mansfield’s portrayal of community. In so doing, she offers a valuable reading and insight into some of Mansfield’s stories but she overlooks Mansfield’s own explanation of her experience of writing, one that more fully reflects Hammond’s discussion of Henry James and the author’s relation to his subject. In an oft-quoted passage from a letter to Dorothy Brett written on 11 October 1917, Mansfield reflects on ‘becoming’ the duck she writes about: ‘There follows the moment when you are more duck, more apple or more Natasha than any of these objects could ever possibly be, and so you create them anew.’2
(p.193) Whatever these oversights suggest about the overall structure of the book, however, they affect Hammond’s individual readings of the authors only inasmuch as they limit further speculation on their use of empathic techniques. She offers, for example, an insightful discussion of Virginia Woolf’s notion of androgyny and its relation to Woolf’s resistance to the notion of ‘pure’ empathy. And although Hammond emphasises interactions between Mansfield’s characters over the author/character or reader/protagonist connections developed in earlier chapters, she does provide valuable readings of some of Mansfield’s more famous stories.
In opposition to Hammond’s conclusions about Mansfield’s employment of empathy, Gerri Kimber’s discussion of her impressionism and the abstract in Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story suggests that Mansfield brings the reader into the experience of the character. Drawing on Mansfield’s statement that ‘If one remained oneself all of the time like some writers can it would be less exhausting’ (10), Kimber notes that ‘One of Mansfield’s greatest strengths is her ability to “become” her fictional characters and to depict with acute psychological insight the workings of their minds, as well as delineating their physical attributes’ (11). This emphasis on the physical attributes is taken up later by Kimber in her chapter on symbolism, in which she discusses how Mansfield uses concrete images to convey feeling.
As Hammond points out, and Kimber reiterates in her book, Mansfield explores the individual mind and the isolation of many of her characters, a common plight of the modernist protagonist. There was a growing trend at the turn of the twentieth century, according to Hammond, about how to combat this isolation and to attempt to connect with other individuals, something she reveals in the way Mansfield emphasises the loneliness of her individuals. Both accounts, then, tie Mansfield back to modernist aesthetics and themes.
Having established the essence of Mansfield’s narrative technique, the remaining chapters in Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story unpack various elements of her techniques, such as the development of her use of indirect discourse. Kimber notes that even when Mansfield presents us with an omniscient narrator, the narrator is unobtrusive and very often merges, via the use of free indirect discourse, with the character on the page, thus blurring the line between the reader and the characters’ feelings and thoughts. The result, Kimber argues, is an ‘intimate method of storytelling’ in which, for certain moments, ‘we become the character on the page’ (16). Kimber’s discussion is not exhaustive but she gives a solid overview of the way Mansfield creates ‘subjective perception’ (27).
(p.194) Kimber’s updated and expanded book, previously published by Kakapo in 2008, remains valuable for its brief yet thorough overview of Mansfield the writer, particularly when exploring her aesthetic and most common themes. In this regard, it is particularly relevant to readers just entering Mansfield studies. This new edition includes expanded discussions and revised readings of some of the stories that more fully demonstrate the techniques that Kimber identifies as characteristic of Mansfield. Kimber’s goal is to debunk the misperception that Mansfield’s writing is superficial and to reveal to the uninitiated how her form, particularly her use of free indirect discourse, ties her to literary impressionism. Toward this end, Kimber has extended her discussion of Mansfield’s literary impressionism. She has also tightened up her discussion of humour in Mansfield, iterating that her comedy is inflected with pathos, providing not only entertainment but also a sociological message, using Stanley Burnell as an example as well as the affected idiolects of children and especially Nurse Andrews in ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’. Mansfield, Kimber argues, thus enables seeming trifles to become revelations, hiding the darker aspects of the events she portrays. Kimber also elaborates on the influence of M. B. Oxon’s Cosmic Anatomy, developing her discussion of ‘Sun and Moon’ more fully as an example. Kimber’s attention to detail in the story and its explication is meticulous. Likewise, she offers a tight, thoughtful discussion of the ending of ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’, an esoteric ending whose meaning can be elusive. Kimber also sheds light on the equally elusive ending of ‘The Garden Party’.
Finally, Kimber provides an additional chapter, ‘Mansfield in Detail’, in which she identifies several themes and images that bear greater attention, and the information that she offers will serve as tools for future work in Mansfield studies. She offers a compendium of references on the topic of fairies, and traces the image of lamps as they appear in some of Mansfield’s early vignettes and build to ‘The Doll’s House’. Likewise, she compiles references to the Maori and related themes. This volume is thus an invaluable introduction and valuable tool for the study of Katherine Mansfield.
To the extent that empathy can be achieved through analogy or association of similar experiences, memory can play a significant role in developing degrees of empathy, and some psychologists view memory as a key means of connecting oneself with another. We rely on our remembrance of experiences to define ourselves, and shared experiences provide a means for one to find common ground with someone else. But as Hammond reveals in her discussion of empathy, associations often entail one projecting one’s own experience on to (p.195) the other. This is evident in how early readers of Mansfield, especially the expurgated early editions of the journals edited by John Middleton Murry, attempted to draw on their identification with Mansfield, causing misinterpretations of her life and stories. As Kimber establishes in her book, Katherine Mansfield: The View from France, Murry’s editions of Mansfield’s letters and notebooks created a view of Mansfield as he wanted her portrayed, a view that obscured the reality and complexity of her life. Such mythologising led to misappropriations of her life, prompting French critics, translators and readers to impose on her their own ideals. The first few chapters of Janka Kaščáková and Gerri Kimber’s edited collection of essays, Katherine Mansfield and Continental Europe, carry this notion into Mansfield’s reception on the Continent. Maurizio Ascari, Nóra Séllei and Janka Kaščáková, in their respective essays on Mansfield’s reception in Italy, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, suggest that the quiet suffering of Mansfield found some associative connections for these audiences. In some instances, critics and translators took these associations and built a view of Mansfield that fit their agenda, finding commonality and imposing on her life a character that was not truly her own. Ascari, for example, demonstrates the influence of the Catholic Church and its inclusion of her work in some of its publications, attributing to her a religiosity that was not her own. And both Séllei and Kaščáková point out the impact of translating Mansfield into their respective languages, revealing often purposeful mistranslations or edits towards a deliberate communist context.
Beyond this misappropriation of her personal writings, the relationship one builds with other writers and how one appropriates those into one’s own work represents another type of relationship built on the premise of association and memory. While one’s ability to feel with someone is tied to the ability to associate one’s past experiences with what another experiences, the role of influence requires, on the one hand, a sense of memory of one’s encounter with another writer but, on the other, a sense of how that memory is shaped and how it evolves and becomes manifest on one’s own writing. To the extent that a writer struggles to understand the role influence plays in her writing, the attempt of the critic to piece that influence together becomes doubly complex, as Sarah Ailwood and Melinda Harvey point out in the introduction to their collection, Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence. This is where their text and that of Kaščáková and Kimber provide a complement to one another, for while their geographical emphases are different, for the most part, there is a strong emphasis on those who influenced Mansfield, as well as those she has influenced. Katherine Mansfield and Continental Europe, though, more particularly provides a (p.196) glimpse of Mansfield through the eyes of her Continental admirers, introducing English speakers to perspectives otherwise limited by language. In this way it enriches an appreciation of the impact Mansfield had, as well as drawing attention to some of the linguistic and cultural challenges faced in a growing cosmopolitan, global literary world.
While the essays by Ascari, Séllei and Kaščáková look particularly at the reception of Mansfield on the Continent, essays by Gerri Kimber, Mirosława Kubasiewicz, Delia da Sousa Correa and Claire Davison each explore the impact of Mansfield’s contact with the Continent. Both Kimber and Kubasiewicz explore the connection between Mansfield and Stanislaw Wyspiański. Kimber, drawing on the letters of Floryan Sobieniowski and the newly discovered story, ‘A Little Episode’, attempts to piece together a period of Mansfield’s life that is not fully known. She sheds light on both the possible influence of Wyspiański on Mansfield and particularly the possibility that she travelled to Poland with Floryan Sobieniowski, where she would have encountered Wyspiański’s stained-glass window, ‘God the Father – Let it Be’, which Kimber argues is inspiration for Mansfield’s poem, ‘To God the Father’. Kubasiewicz, on the other hand, discusses the influence of Wyspiański on his generation, then provides an explication of Mansfield’s poem, ‘To Stanislaw Wyspianski’, arguing that it reveals Mansfield’s feelings of social inferiority and the more general feeling of inferiority of women of the day.
In her essay, Delia da Sousa Correa brings the discussion westward to Germany, revisiting Mansfield’s stay in Bavaria, a period in her life about which little is known; like Kimber, she attempts to fill in some of the gaps. Rather than looking at Mansfield’s personal relationships at this time, however, da Sousa Correa explores the influence of musical Romanticism on Mansfield. In particular, she demonstrates Mansfield’s indebtedness and resistance to Wagner, revealing the complexity of influence that permeates the other collection, Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence. Claire Davison then returns to Mansfield’s ties to Eastern Europe through her collaborative translations with S. S. Koteliansky, emphasising the ‘power of words in the art of code-switching and mistranslating’ (117). Providing a pleasing complement to Katherine Mansfield and Translation, of which she is the co-editor, Davison points out that ‘high Anglophone modernism was galvanized by translation’ and believes that Koteliansky’s and Mansfield’s translations call for further exploration of the impact of their thinking across the Continent, rather than focusing on the ‘inward-looking, nationalist, centripetal tendencies that had been so cynically fostered during the war’ (136). Such is the value of considering the issue of translation in general but also the value of this book as a whole.
(p.197) C. K. Stead, whose essay concludes the collection, provides an insightful assessment of Mansfield’s stories that take place on the Continent, assessing them in the context of her New Zealand stories, asking whether they ultimately contend for equal prominence in Mansfield’s oeuvre. He finally rules in favour of the New Zealand stories because they demonstrate the fuller implementation of the technical developments that she had only begun exploring in the European stories. Stead’s article provides a well-rounded conclusion to the collection in making a final declarative statement about the role of the Continent in shaping her work.
The remaining essays in the collection are only cursorily tied to the Continent, often exploring thematic notions of foreignness. Kathryn Simpson and Patricia Moran each consider this from a more psychological perspective. Simpson, for example, considers the subjectivity of Mansfield’s characters, particularly their repressed unconsciousness, as a way of talking about the ‘foreign within’, which results in a state of exile in a male-dominated culture. Moran, likewise, takes up the notion of exile but suggests that Mansfield’s feeling of isolation caused her to choose language as her ‘home’, a psychological replacement of ‘personal, cultural, and national identity’ (202). As a result, Moran connects Mansfield’s exilic perspective to her modernist experimentation. Other essays focus on the stories that take place on the Continent. Angela Smith compares Mansfield’s and Jean Rhys’s ties to colonial modernism and how each subversively addresses an empiric audience by creating characters who experience foreignness but who are not colonial, while Erika Baldt considers the issue of national identity and how it can be manipulated both by the individual and by the observer to create a sense of ‘other’. Janet Wilson rounds off the collection in her study of some of Mansfield’s early stories, exploring Mansfield’s use of the liminal state of childhood to expose the infantilisation of the metropolitan subject. While these last essays may not consider Mansfield’s more direct ties to the Continent, they do provide valuable insights into Mansfield’s work and her sense of foreignness.
Sarah Ailwood’s and Melinda Harvey’s Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence overlaps with Katherine Mansfield and Continental Europe, not only in that influence is the concern of some of the essays in the latter, but also in that the reach of influences explored in their book includes some of Mansfield’s Continental connections. Deborah Pike, for example, considers connections between Mansfield and the French author, Colette. Unfortunately, she tends to aggrandise Mansfield, discussing her alongside Colette in light of the notion of ‘vagabondage’, suggesting that Mansfield embraces this notion of solitude but (p.198) overlooking the fact that Mansfield’s isolation was not always voluntary. Juliane Römhild explores the influence of Mansfield’s cousin, Elizabeth von Arnim, in particular how Mansfield was inspired by her personal story and her writing. She attempts to show the influence of her cousin on Mansfield’s portrayal of Germans in her early stories. But of those essays that tie Mansfield to the Continent, Melinda Harvey’s essay on Mansfield and Chekhov stands out. Revisiting the influence of Chekhov on Mansfield, especially since the fervour over the issue of her plagiarism has subsided with the influence of translation studies and changes in how one conceives of appropriation of a text, Harvey traces Mansfield’s own manuscript practice along with her translation of Chekhov to show how Mansfield’s own writing process and developing notions of translation demonstrate the influence of Chekhov.
As a whole, the essays in Katherine Mansfield and Literary Influence distance themselves from Harold Bloom’s ‘anxiety of influence’. Instead, they explore another type of anxiety – that of negotiating between originality and borrowing, clearly demonstrated in Harvey’s essay on Mansfield and Chekhov. What makes this collection valuable is that, like Katherine Mansfield and Continental Europe, it explores Mansfield beyond her own circle. The collection looks both forwards and backwards, addressing influences on Mansfield as well as her influence on others. Special attention is given to the ambiguity of her influence on New Zealand and Australian literature in the wake of her death, expanding our understanding of her significance beyond the confines of England.
A few of the essays address influences on Mansfield that seem obvious but which have not always received much critical attention. Michael Hollington, for example, explains how Dickensian motifs are evident at an early age in Mansfield’s writings and how they continue throughout her writing life, in particular her means of characterisation. While Mark Houlahan explores how Mansfield’s characters use Shakespeare, he is more interested in exploring how Shakespeare helped to rekindle the relationship between Mansfield and Murry, providing them with a common ground for discussion. Both of these essays are useful, and although neither is as fully developed as it could be, each begins a conversation about Mansfield’s literary forebears that demands further discussion. Susan Reid takes a different tack, tracing influence through the genre of the manifesto, arguing that Mansfield’s stories act as an implied manifesto. She showed how these, alongside her editorials, letters and reviews, begin to serve as a platform to influence others in their writing practice, in particular offering a ‘how to’ aesthetic as (p.199) well as a push to urge a subtle style of influence with a moralistic bent, contrasted with Lawrence’s violence.
Of course, Virginia Woolf figures significantly in any discussion of influence, as she and Mansfield are often seen as competitors as well as associates, a relationship whose complexity Kathryn Simpson explains through a theory of gift-giving. Simpson explains that the relationship between Mansfield and Woof was one of reciprocation, but that in sharing their ideas and other favours (such as publication), they exerted a degree of power over one another by the giving and withholding of ‘gifts’. Katie Macnamara, on the other hand, works to undermine traditional readings of Woolf’s relationship with Mansfield, focusing on Woolf’s use of the term ‘underworld’. Although many critics associate Woolf’s use of the term in relation to Mansfield as negative, Macnamara makes a compelling case that Woolf’s use of the term in relation to Mansfield evolved as she developed a growing sense of empathy for Mansfield’s plight, stemming from her own sense of isolation during her own psychological difficulties. In one of the more memorable essays of the collection, she explains that Mansfield’s overcoming a social ‘underworld’ to remain trapped in an ‘internal one’ becomes an influence on the later topics of Woolf’s fiction.
Most of the remaining essays address Mansfield’s influence on others, demonstrating that Mansfield studies have come into their own. Naomi Milthorpe draws on an essay that Evelyn Waugh wrote on Mansfield when he was seventeen to establish a sense of influence, even if it is a rejection of Mansfield’s modernist aesthetics. While it focuses more on Waugh’s relation to literary modernism, Milthorpe provides a connection to Mansfield that has been overlooked until now. Jessica Gildersleeve explores the possible influence of Mansfield on Elizabeth Bowen, despite the fact that Bowen seems to resist it. She uses the trope of the absent foremother and suggests that Bowen’s characters’ longing in stories are indicative of the desire for a predecessor, an ‘anxiety about and longing for literary influence’ (43).
The most welcome essays, though, are those that trace Mansfield’s influence back to New Zealand and Australia, back to authors who often grew up in the shadow of Mansfield’s success and had to contend with her popularity even as they felt obligated to find their own voice. Janet Wilson, for example, shows Mansfield as a rival of Frank Sargeson, who reacts against her aesthetic, preferring realism and an emphasis on the local – a cultural naturalism. As in Milthorpe’s discussion of Waugh, though, rejecting Mansfield requires that Sargeson contend with her influence. Bonny Cassidy, on the other hand, connects Mansfield to Eve Langley through Oscar Wilde, suggesting that Langley may have (p.200) come to Wilde through Mansfield. The parallels that she draws between Mansfield and Langley are interesting but they appear too superficial to amount to any clear indication of influence. Interestingly, Sarah Ailwood traces Mansfield’s influence on Australian literature more generally, specifically through the work of Nettie Palmer. Tracing Palmer’s interactions with Mansfield’s personal writings to establish a ‘dialogic energy’ that developed between the two, Ailwood suggests that Palmer used Mansfield as a catalyst to draw attention to Australian literary culture, noting the lack of opportunities at home to push for more local outlets for writers.
As a whole, the collection provides a broad perspective on the influences both on and of Mansfield, though some of the essays tend to rely too heavily on circumstantial ties. More generally, it provides a strong case for a return to the exploration of influence as a valuable means of exploring an author’s literary inheritance as well as her own literary legacy.
Our interpretations of our experiences and our influences – if one allows for human agency – help us to make sense of our past and reveal ourselves in relation to them. In this way, memory plays a significant role in the way that Mansfield reflects on her childhood in her fiction. And while there is little doubt about the autobiographical nature of her New Zealand stories, most critics are careful to recognise that these are filtered through memory which must necessarily be selective due to the very nature of memory. The result is that whatever biographical significances these later stories have, they have been filtered through Mansfield’s own remembrances of her past, which are coloured by her nostalgic feelings for home. One of the values of Anna Plumridge’s new edition of The Urewera Notebook is that, as she points out, it is one of the few glimpses of Mansfield’s perspective on New Zealand not filtered through memory. It provides the perspective of a young colonial woman who, while she cannot fully escape her Eurocentric background, explores the country of her birth up close and directly. For this reason, Plumridge sets out to bring the full value of the notebook to light, and in order to do so she provides an overview of the critical attention the notebook has received and traces the strategies and reception of the various editions of the notebook even as she justifies her own editorial choices. The result is a validation of the need for this new edition that follows the precise order of the notebook without attempting to force it into a coherent narrative, but one that also provides a scholarly apparatus that allows readers to appreciate the notebook more fully in its full context. This small but beautiful volume offers both general readers and scholars access not only to the notebook, but also to contextual (p.201) information about the journey and the places that Mansfield visited along the way, bringing the notebook to life and allowing it to speak more fully to the experience of Mansfield. But it also offers valuable scholarly apparati, including historical contexts, an overview of previous editions of the notebook, and helpful textual notes which include explanations of various plants and Maori phrases.
The beauty of the volume lies in part in the collection of previously unpublished photographs of the areas that the camping party visited. One photo shows the campers sitting around their tents at Eskdale with the horses and wagon in the foreground and another shows the group stopping for lunch, possibly in the Urewera. Of particular interest is a photo taken at Runanga, of a paddock where the group camped. Plumridge suggests that this was probably the paddock that inspired ‘The Woman at the Store’, arguing that this is the more likely location, as opposed to Ian Gordon’s account that it was the couple at the Rangitaiki Hotel.
What makes Plumridge’s book a particularly valuable addition to Mansfield scholarship, though, is the detailed itinerary that she has developed through great effort. She provides a new, more accurate timeline and detailed account of the day-to-day journal, not only as drawn from Mansfield’s notebook, but also supplemented by the materials and letters of the other members of the camping expeditions, as well as contemporary historical documents. The notebook itself provides an often impressionistic description of what Mansfield experienced, offering more of a personal shorthand of the events, which at their best evoke the immediacy of the memory. Plumridge’s itinerary helps to put things into context. However, while Plumridge provides valid reasons for retaining the precise order of the original notebook as recorded, her version of the notebook would have benefited from some cross-references to her detailed itinerary, allowing the reader to see more clearly where some of the descriptions from the notebook would most likely fall along the journey.
Overall, the book provides valuable insights into the notebook and includes contexts that illuminate Mansfield’s own European influences and suggest a possible corrective to her attitude toward colonial society. It offers a balanced view of Mansfield’s experience, neither trying to romanticise it nor overlooking her complex feelings toward her home country and her appreciation of two conflicting cultures, showing her as ‘a complex mixture of conventional and insightful thinking’ (19).
Psychological approaches to literature get to the heart of why we study literature to begin with: to enable us to appreciate others’ experience of the world more fully. As Hammond points out, we may not be able to (p.202) access these experiences fully in a direct way through empathy, but our imaginations provide us with the ability at least to approach these experiences. The possibility of empathy, even if it must be filtered through our imaginations, signals the value of literature as a window into understanding our own and others’ humanity, for, by some accounts, the thing that makes us human is our ability to establish relationships, relationships which rely on a deep feeling for another.
As each of the studies under consideration demonstrates, the life and work of Katherine Mansfield enrich our understanding of the self and our relationship with others. Mansfield certainly knew, better than most, the debilitating effects of exile and isolation as well as the deep-seated desire for human companionship. Yet, even as she often explores the causes and effects of such isolation on the individual in her stories, she likewise offers the potential means of breaking down those barriers so that something akin to Anderson’s ‘the thing needed’, if not fully realised, is approached.