Katherine Mansfield and anima mundi: France and the tradition of nature personified

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This chapter proposes a speculative reading of Katherine Mansfield’s work in relation to the medieval concept of anima mundi (world soul), that is, the belief in an animistic universe in which the earth is revivified through a spiritus mundi (spirit of the world). Although no explicit link can be made, I suggest that Mansfield had affinities with medieval cosmology which fostered a more participatory relationship between the human subject and the created world than the post-Cartesian world view does. I also suggest that this relationship between the self and the ‘other’ is often marked by a ‘decentring’ modernist aesthetic that enables her to represent it as odd, disturbing or disruptive. The first section of this chapter identifies central concepts associated with the belief in anima mundi, as found in the writings of the French philosophers, writers and artists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This is followed by a discussion of three motifs associated with the tradition of nature personified that survived into modernist culture with reference to particular stories in which Mansfield seemingly rewrites them into a contemporary idiom.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationKatherine Mansfield's French Lives
EditorsClaire Davison, Gerri Kimber
Place of PublicationLeiden
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9789004284135
ISBN (Print)9789004283688
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Jan 2016

Publication series

NameInternational Forschungen zur allgemeinen und vergleichenden Literaturwissenschaft


  • Literature
  • Arts and science
  • Literature and Cultural studies
  • Literary relations
  • Cultural studies
  • French and francophone
  • English and anglophone


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