Falling for France – Katherine Mansfield through a French looking-glass

Gerri Kimber

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In this essay I highlight the life-long influence of France on Katherine Mansfield. Approximately three years of Mansfield’s life in total were spent on French soil and it was therefore inevitable that these prolonged exposures to French culture, literature and people would influence her writing and thinking. We find in her notebooks and correspondence a body of work that adds up to a wittily idiosyncratic yet vividly evocative account of early twentieth century France. Her attitudes to France were sometimes negative and pejorative, a fact that her husband, the critic John Middleton Murry, worked hard to erase from her legacy after her death. This essay seeks to present the evidence of what exactly Mansfield wrote about France and the French, (minus Murry’s highly subjective editing process), together with her knowledge of French writers and their influence on her own creative output. A clear awareness of these facts is essential in order to highlight any distortions in the subsequent representations of her life by her husband, and by the French critics after her death. My aim is therefore to demystify Mansfield’s French reputation – a reputation that has always been coloured by speculation and invention. It is vital to expose more fully the French influence, both on Mansfield’s life and her craft, since some of her most celebrated stories would not have come into being without her experiences in France and can only be fully appreciated if we view them through this Gallic lens. A critical analysis of this use of a French ‘filter’ gives us a much finer understanding of the complex well-spring of Mansfield’s creativity
Original languageEnglish
JournalLes Cahiers du CICLaS
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


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