I. Dragging Mansfield Out of the Closet
In New Zealand Wilde acted so strongly and terribly upon me that I was constantly subject to exactly the same fits of madness as those which caused his ruin and mental decay. When I am miserable now – these recur. Sometimes I forget all about it – then with awful recurrence it bursts upon me again and I am quite powerless to prevent it – This is my secret from the world and from you – Another shares it with me, . . . For she, too is afflicted with the same terror – We used to talk of it knowing that it w[oul]d eventually kill us, render us insane or paralytic – all to no purpose – It’s funny that you and I have never shared this – and I know you will understand why. Nobody can help –it has been going on now since I was 18 and it was the reason for Rudolf’s death. I read it in his face today. I think my mind is morally unhinged and that is the reason – I know it is a degradation so unspeakable that – one perceives the dignity in pistols.
2. The Immoral Influence
“While there were many times when I rejoiced in the idea that my sufferings were to be endless, I could not bear them to be without meaning. Now I find hidden somewhere away in my nature something that tells me that nothing in the whole world is meaningless and suffering least of all. That something hidden away in my nature, like a treasure in a field, is Humility.”
OSCAR WILDE from De Profundis
3. The Mask of Ambivalence
Mansfield constructed the fiction of a heterosexual self, engaged in romantic relationships with men such as Garnet Trowell and John Middleton Murry. She then attempted unsuccessfully to translate her own romantic construction into heterosexual reality . . . Many other women of her time also concealed their lesbianism . . . most lesbians learn to live double lives, and to deceive at least some of the people around them, because they fear the consequences of exposure. I see Mansfield’s romantic letters to men as theatrical presentations of various identities, which are acceptably heterosexual, despite their flamboyant and made-up quality (pp. 213 – 214).
See Sydney Janet Kaplan’s, Katherine Mansfield and the Origins of Modernist Fiction (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1991), pp. 26-27, for citation of this letter. Kaplan adds the following footnote that is useful to see the critical response its discovery generated:
This is a fascinating letter. Its origin is unclear, and also its recipient. O’Sullivan and Scott (Letters I, p. 90) suggest it was written to Ida Baker. They mention . . . “on either side of the paper wrapped around it she wrote, ‘never to be read, on your honour as my friend, while I am still alive. K. Mansfield.’” Cited by Alpers, Life, p. 91. Tomalin is dubious, however, about the sincerity of Mansfield’s angst in this letter, believing the letter might have played a role in her efforts to rid herself of her husband, George Bowden. (p. 27)
Ibid, pp. 19 – 35, in particular p. 26.
See Alison Laurie’s essay, Katherine Mansfield – A Lesbian Writer, reprinted in ENGL 316 – New Zealand Literature 3: Katherine Mansfield Anthology (University of Canterbury: Dept. of English, 1999), pp. 213 – 224, in particular p. 219.
Ibid, p. 214.
Ibid, p. 28.
Ibid, ‘Introduction’, p. 5.
From Wilde’s De Profundis. I feel that this quotation is especially significant in relation to Mansfield’s philosophies on life, experience, art, and fame. I think that this quote also applies to Laurie’s reading of Mansfield’s “construction of a heterosexual self”. I feel that M. constructed herself through experience, sexual or otherwise, as a means to exist in a constant state of fiction that she could control as a living art form. While this may sound vague, I think it explains a lot about her journals and letters, and her adventurous and imaginative nature, that remains unexplainable. In light of her battle through adulthood and adolescence with misunderstanding, sickness, tragedy, and toward her later years – the constant worry of imminent death from her tuberculosis, I feel that the construction of any self, would be a conceptually imaginative one that centred around a world that was as far away as possible, from the grim reality of her deteriorating physical state. The constant presence of the ticking clock would also motivate an over-immersion in experience and life, which was as sensually aesthetic as possible.
These men are Garnet Trowell, George Bowden, and John Middleton Murry. Laurie goes as far as to justify her accusatory claims about Murry’s ‘latent’ homosexuality, using as evidence his confession in a private journal that he had been homosexually raped and also his rejection of D. H. Lawrence’s sexual advances, (which Laurie perceives as a “homophobic” reaction, p. 221, ENGL 316 Anthology). She also cites Mansfield’s propensity for pseudonyms and affectionate pet/nick-names: “she referred to him as ‘Betsy’” (p. 222), among other names.