From flagrant to fragrant: reinventing Katherine Mansfield

Gerri Kimber

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


After Katherine Mansfield’s untimely death in 1923, the first French critics who took up her cause instigated a myth which has continued to the present day. They were aided in this mythologizing process by her husband, John Middleton Murry, who, via severely edited volumes of his dead wife’s journals and letters in England, helped to promulgate a personality cult of his dead wife, enthusiastically taken up by the French to the point of hagiography. The French critics seized on biographical points which could easily promote the legend – her beauty, her ill health, her supposed love of France and the French, her romance with Murry, her search for the spiritual But the fact remains that the persona they were slavishly adapting and promoting, with very little critical dissent, bore only a passing resemblance to Mansfield’s real identity, thanks to a severe double dose of editing, firstly by Murry and then by the French translators editing out anything from the already expurgated English versions of her journals and letters which they felt did not promote their version of Mansfield. All subsequent research on Mansfield in France, was based on the work of these initial critics; there was one root – a base of ‘knowledge’ from which information tended to be retrieved. A point is then reached where this information becomes solidified, leading to opposition to any alternative viewpoints. It thus becomes irrelevant whether the initial research was based on deliberate misrepresentation or accidental misunderstanding – this ‘archive’ of information has been in the public domain for so long that it has become fact, resulting in a serious misrepresentation of a popular literary figure
Original languageEnglish
JournalMoveable Type
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2007


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