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Archive for the ‘Katherine Mansfield’ Category

Female friends are special. I often wonder what I would do without them. So I like to take note of stories about longtime women friends.

This was particularly true during the past week. Knowing that today I was on the blog tour schedule to publish a review of A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, stories of women’s friendships kept popping out at me.

I’ll share just two of them before adding the promised review.

Akron Beacon Journal article featuring the lifelong friendship of two women, now 94 and 100.

Women friends on a local level

Yesterday, the front page of my local newspaper featured such a close friendship.  It told the story of two women — one black, one white — who led a Girl Scout troop in an all-white community back in 1954 and became fast friends, as did their daughters.

Women friends on a national level

Last week, a lecture I attended by Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation (2016) spoke of the importance of women’s friendships throughout U.S. history. She also emphasized how those intimate friendships sustained and supported women when their marriage relationships, often entered into solely for financial reasons, did not.

Women’s literary friendships

Women writers had sustaining friendships with female friends, too. But as  Margaret Atwood says in her foreward to A Secret Sisterhood, female literary friendships have often been overlooked.

Midorikawa and Sweeney bring them into the limelight in their 2017 book, A Secret Sisterhood. Now out in paperback in the UK, it explores the “secret sisterhoods” entered into by Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. My focus will be on the book’s final section, whose three chapters explore the ambivalent friendship between Woolf and Katherine Mansfield.

Woolf and Mansfield: friends or foes, cat or mouse?

Anyone who studies Woolf knows that there is much discussion of the love-hate relationship between Woolf and Mansfield. In Secret Sisters, Midorikawa and Sweeney bring it into clear focus.

They are careful to describe the complicated relationship between the two, showing us how and why Woolf considered Mansfield both her “bitter opponent and beloved friend — unrivaled by any other” (260). They use excerpts from letters, diaries and more to compile a detailed timeline that clarifies the relationship without oversimplifying its nuances.

The authors follow the relationship between the two writers from its spring 1917 beginnings in Mansfield’s humble Chelsea flat, where Woolf offered Mansfield the opportunity to have her work published with the newly formed Hogarth Press, to the news, delivered by Woolf’s maid Nellie Boxall in January 1923, that Mansfield had died.

In between, Midorikawa and Sweeney document the ups and downs of their professional alliance, as well as their personal relationship. Among them are Garsington gossip, the rivalry between the two to use the Garsington garden as the setting for a short story, and the ways they supported each other’s literary careers while engaging in creative competition.

We also get an inside view of Mansfield’s ill health and financial challenges, Woolf’s mixed feelings about Mansfield’s work, and the insecurities each woman had about the other as both a trusted friend and literary sounding board.

A Secret Sisterhood lays out the intimate inner workings of the friendship and competition between Woolf and Mansfield, setting theories and rumors to rest and illuminating a relationship characterized by a “rare sense of communion” (250) that has interested their readers for decades.

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A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, is out in paperback in the UK today.

In the U.S. we have to wait until Oct. 16 for the paperback version of the hardcover book that debuted last October. But that doesn’t mean we must wait to read about it.

Touring the blogs

The authors have arranged a blog tour to celebrate the paperback release as well as Women’s History Month. The tour started today, March 1, and runs through March 19, with a variety of bloggers publishing reviews of the book.

The first stop on the tour is A View from the Balcony. Last, but not least is Blogging Woolf. If you have read the book — or read about it — you’ll know BW will focus on the three chapters and 63 pages of “Part 4: Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf.” But I’m also eager to read the forward by Margaret Atwood.

Thanks to Emily and Emma for the invitation to participate in the blog tour. The hardcover version of their book has been front and center on my bookshelf for months now, so I’m glad to have a deadline to spur my reading.

Thoughts from an author

“My PhD. was on Woolf, so the Mansfield and Woolf section was a particular joy to research,” wrote Emma in an email.

“As for Margaret Atwood — what an act of literary sisterhood. We approached her after a public lecture (something we share in the book’s epilogue), and could hardly believe it when she agreed to take a look.”

Catching the eye of a 12-year-old

It’s title even caught the interest of my 12-year-old grandson, Michael, who was home sick from school with a tummy bug this week. Camped out on my home office sofa while his mom was at work, his eyes lit on the cover of Secret Sisterhood. It must have sounded mysteriously intriguing because he asked what the book was about. I gave him a two-sentence synopsis.

That may have burst the mystery bubble for a bright boy whose main interests are math, science, history, PlayStation, fishing, and baseball (not necessarily in that order). But I just might send him the link to my March 19 review anyway. After all, one is never too young to start appreciating Woolf.

Get the full tour

The full tour schedule is listed below, and was announced on the authors’ blog, Something Rhymed.

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Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

The Katherine Mansfield Society announces its annual essay prize competition for 2017, open to all, on the subject of: Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf. For more information, see the Essay Prize page.

The society has issued a call for comparative papers on Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf for vol. 10 of the Katherine Mansfield Society Yearbook.  The deadline for completed essays is Aug. 31. The essays submitted will be read by a selected panel, who together will select from them the Prize essay.

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Katherine Mansfield SocietyKatherine Mansfield and the Blooms Berries, an international conference organized by the Katherine Mansfield Society that will be held at the Newberry Library in Chicago, Ill., May 28-30, 2015, has issued a call for papers.

Submit abstracts of 250 words plus a bio-sketch of 50 words to conference organizers, Todd Martin, Erika Baldt, and Alex Moffett. Email to: kmsintheus@gmail.com. Complete panel proposals of three speakers plus a chair, are welcome.

Deadline for abstracts: Oct. 30, 2014.

Get the full details.

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Marta Rodríguez Iborra submitted this guest post to Blogging Woolf. It describes her impressions of Virginia Woolf’s Diary entry written one week after Katherine Mansfield’s death.

Among all the entries of the second volume of Virginia Woolf’s Diary I would like to comment briefly on the 16 January 1923 record, as I consider it to be quite unique. Katherine Mansfield died on 9 January 1923, and so a week later VW tries to describe the impact that this loss has had on her in her private diary.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield

VW has some difficulty in expressing what she feels. “It is strange to trace the progress of one’s feelings. […] A shock of relief? –a rival less?” However, despite the confusion and the apparent two-fold dimension of this tragic event, VW confesses to have fallen into depression. If KM is not there anymore, what is the point of writing? VW remembers that KM once wrote a letter to her with the request: “Do let us meet in the nearest future darling Virginia, and don’t quite forget”. Now in this 16 January1923 diary entry, VW wants to analyze how far she is obeying Katherine. First of all, though, before answering that question, she needs to find out what kind of relationship they had.

Any reader of VW’s diary knows that she writes in it as a professional writer. She is obviously under time pressure and she does not correct her texts as they are private, but as far as the style, the choice of themes and the depth of her observations are concerned, one notices that VW can hardly take off her mask of experienced writer, of an intellectual woman. In fact the mask is her skin. As an exquisite writer Woolf describes emotions in a literary way, at the exact distance avoiding a pathetic undertone. So even after KM’s death VW does not surrender to sentimentalism. The colour and music of her sentences are perfectly and naturally controlled by her pen. However, in this specific diary entry she exceptionally lets go. And those leaks are pure and too important to get to know our Bloomsbury diarist in a new dimension. Through the half open door of this entry the reader does not only see Virginia’s Woolf writer’s mask/face, but she/he reaches her soul, too.

In order to understand her emotion and “analyse” the situation VW writes down some of her visual impressions of KM in a kind of a flash back subjective description. “She had a look of a Japanese doll, with the fringe combed quite straight across her forehead”. Isn’t it a delicate way of describing Katherine Mansfield? And she adds “Sometimes we looked very steadfastly at each other, as though we had reached some durable relationship, independent of the changes of the body, through the eyes.” After this deep and poetic statement VW controls herself again as she doesn’t want so sound too melancholic and she continues the portrait of KM in the way she usually illustrates acquaintances or friends, namely sharply and with a particular tincture of humour or sarcasm: She had “beautiful eyes- rather doglike, brown, wide apart”, “her nose was sharp, a little vulgar” and then she moved “like some suffering animal.”

VW asks herself if KM ever cared for her and she immediately acknowledges she did. For example, the way KM looked at her, the fact that KM wanted her to read her diary. So yes, VW admits that despite the fact that KM never answered one of her letters (VW seems not be able to forget it) their friendship was true and long-lasting. “She would promise never never to forget.”

The end of the 16 January 1923 diary entry contains some traces of guilt (VW feels she did not give KM credit for her illness) and quite an important confession: VW openly admits that KM’s is “the only writing I have ever been jealous of”. Isn’t it amazing for a writer such as VW to confess she was jealous of KM’s literature? And then any good reader can feel VW’s deep pain in sentences such as “For two days I felt I had grown middle aged, & lost some spur to write.” But then again Woolf needs to gain some distance to what she has revealed, so she immediately writes that the feeling is going and that she no longer pities KM that much. However, unable to escape a sort of emotional spiral she once again admits with conviction “I have the feeling that I shall think of her at intervals all through life”. And the reason why is because “we had something in common which I shall never find in anyone else.”

In the following diary entry dated 28 January, VW confesses that she continues to write but that she does it “into emptiness” because there is no competitor anymore. That might be true, but one also feels a painful ellipsis there. VW misses KM as a human being, as a woman, as a writer, as a friend, almost as a sister, or even as an alter ego, as another I.

How could Virginia Woolf possibly ever forget Katherine Mansfield?

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I recently read a review of Rachel Cusk’s latest novel, The Bradshaw Variations, in Rain Taxi, a journal of book reviews. The reviewer evokes Woolf in a flattering if tongue-in-cheek comparison:

“What makes it not only Cusk’s best work to date but also one of the most engaging British novels of recent years is the extent to which the author commits to the insipid, the domestic, the mundane. If Virginia Woolf had gone for a jog everyday instead of smoking so much, she might have written The Bradshaw Variations (though this is still strict realism, much more Night and Day than The Waves).”

Cusk, who has written eight novels in 10 years, must be dancing on air, as she has proclaimed Woolf’s influence, particularly in her 2007 Arlington Park. The one-day-novel set in a London suburb was inspired by Mrs. Dalloway.

Now I’m reading the new collection of stories by Julian Barnes, Pulse. Barnes is a witty wordsmith, eloquent at times, egotistical and chest-beating at others. In both regards he reminds me of John Updike. My favorite story in this book is, ironically, “Sleeping with John Updike.” Jane and Alice, middle-aged, moderately successful authors and long-time colleagues and friends, are on a train traveling home from a literary festival at which they both presented.

They are generous with their praise for each other, their work, their recent readings, though “each privately liked the other’s work a little less than they said.” And under the radar they reflect to themselves critically as well on each other’s dress and appearance, mannerisms and morals.

As I was reading this, I started to picture Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield in this scenario. They engaged with each other in much the same way—devoted friends professing mutual admiration, while at the same time snide critics and fierce competitors.

And Updike? It turns out that years ago at a party Alice perched on his knee, and he “twinkled” at her. But she let Jane believe that it had gone further, because “one has one’s pride,” and their sex lives are another area of competitiveness. Hmmm, who shall we cast in Updike’s role in Virginia and Katherine’s story?

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