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Katherine Mansfield – The Early Years

When the patron of the Katherine Mansfield Society compliments an author for her meticulous research, you know the biography of Miss Mansfield will be reliable and detailed. Indeed, Gerri Kimber has covered every aspect of Katherine’s early years with great incite understanding. 

The references at the back show this clearly. Not only was Katherine an exceptional author, but also a musician of some renown. She led a full life, although the early years were rather difficult, and Gerri has shown how these formative years helped to develop Katherine into the wonderful author we read today.

 The author gives us a thorough background into Katherine’s ancestors, and how they came to the wealth and social standing that allowed them to travel and finally finish up in New Zealand. This is where Katherine spent most of her childhood years. She was a plain and chubby child who developed, in spite of her mother, who was frail, and rather acerbic with her children. After a long absence abroad, her mother greeted Katherine at the port by saying “Still fat I see”.  At school, Katherine wrote some short stories, and already showed a great insight into language and description.

 In her later years, Katherine was sent to Queen’s College in London, to further her studies. This was a most unusual educational establishment, as it gave the students a great deal of freedom and autonomy in their choices of subjects and studies. Katherine flourished here although she found friendships difficult to maintain. When she finished at college, Katherine returned to New Zealand to rejoin her family. She was lost and turned to her music and dreams of lovers to sustain her all the while desperately wanting to return to London.

 There are excerpts of Katherine’s prose, and similarities are drawn with the works of Oscar Wilde. Although published in the local papers, Kathrine still yearns to go to London and join the literary set. Her father is not convinced about the wisdom of this, and delays her departure, but eventually she proceeds to London, to the home of a relative, with an allowance of one hundred pounds a year, allocated by her father.

 The details and research covered by Gerri, make the character of Katherine come alive. Just reading the many snippets that are contained in this book will certainly promote an interest in Katherine Mansfield, and place her name among those great writers in history. There are many fascinating photos of Katherine’s family, and New Zealand, to add interest to her story. Hopefully the name Katherine Mansfield will take a more prominent position in our readings.

AuthorGerri Kimber
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
DistributorNew South Books
ReleasedSeptember 2016