Mansfield with Monsters — The Untold Stories of a New Zealand Icon, by Katherine Mansfield with Matt and Debbie Cowens (Steam Press, 2012), 240 pp., $25.
Everything about this book raises questions, starting with the title. The link between Mansfield and monsters is nicely emphasized by alliteration, but why the awkward conjunction ‘with’? To suggest that Mansfield did not create the monsters, but had them imposed upon her? And which monsters are we talking about? Metaphorical monsters, such as the tuberculosis that killed her? Or Mansfield’s various lovers, such as Floryan Sobieniowsky, who spoiled her with gonorrhea and blackmail, or Francis Carco, who used her as a model for the character of an amoral female author in his novel, Les Innocents? Not to mention that greatest exploiter of all, John Middleton Murry, whose biased editing of her journals, letters and stories not only warped her image, but made him rich after her death.
But no, the title signifies something quite different. The Cowens, in imitation of the popular new American genre, ‘the Mash-Up novel’, have combined the work of a classic author, to wit Mansfield, with a series of supernatural monsters, such as one-legged larks, vampires, sky and sea monsters, extraterratorials, walking dead, leeches, colossal preying insects, werewolves, and so on. The first Mash-Up novel, brought out by Quirk Books, a small publisher in Philadelphia, specified the category of monsters in its title: namely Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, written by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith in 2009. This was followed by a spate of classics boasting supernatural monsters, and mostly capitalising on Austen. Michael Thomas Ford writes a trilogy that even goes so far as to transform Austen herself into a vampire. The New York Times book reviewer, Jennifer Schuessler, commented : ‘Take some Jane Austen, add a healthy dollop of gore and start counting the money.’ [Read more…]