The Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield: Volume 3: The Poetry and Critical Writings of Katherine Mansfield, edited by Gerri Kimber and Angela Smith (Edinburgh University Press, 2014), 754 pp., £175; Volume 4, The Diaries of Katherine Mansfield: Including miscellaneous works, edited by Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 500 pp., £175
These two handsome volumes are successors to the collected fiction, volumes 1 and 2 of the Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield, co-edited by Gerri Kimber and Vincent O’Sullivan, who, in making available all Mansfield’s creative work, aimed at a remapping that would show her ‘rare originality’. The variety of short stories, sketches, vignettes and dialogues displayed in the collected fiction is amply complemented by the range of nonfiction presented in these volumes: Mansfield’s poetry and critical writings in volume 3, and her diaries and miscellaneous works in volume 4. Most of Mansfield’s non-fictional writings have been published in various editions since her death, many poorly edited by John Middleton Murry. The new volumes feature much newly discovered work presented with up-to-date scholarship and ample textual annotation. Volume 4 publishes Mansfield’s diaries in a chronological order, by contrast to Margaret Scott’s 1997 The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks. By bringing together the non-fiction as a greatly expanded corpus, the editors display as never before Mansfield’s multiple talents as diarist and journal writer, translator, poet, reviewer and essayist, and producer of parodies, pastiches and aphorisms.
The gargantuan, 750-page volume 3 consists of almost all the nonfiction that Mansfield ever wrote (apart from her personal writing), and opens with 179 poems, almost double the number collected in Vincent O’Sullivan’s 1988 edition. Many new poems are recent discoveries made by Kimber in the Alexander Turnbull Library, including 19 poems in a notebook titled ‘Little Fronds’, written when Mansfield was at Queen’s College, London, dedicated to ‘Ake, Ake Aroha’ and signed ‘Kathleen M. Beauchamp’. Volume 4 contains Kimber’s most recent discovery, made in the Newberry Library – too late to be included in volume 3 – of the treasure trove of poems entitled ‘The Earth Child’ (1910), a cycle of 35 poems that Mansfield hoped would be published in 1910, which shows her, the editors claim, ‘at the height of her poetic powers’. Only nine of the poems have been previously published, and the entire sequence is reproduced in the section ‘Miscellany’. Despite the slightness and unevenness of this apprentice work, mostly written before Mansfield left for London in 1908, it offers glimpses of what was to come.
Thematic links show Mansfield working across styles, genres and traditions. For example, one of her many cryptic allusions to secret passion can be traced to ‘To Pan’, an early poem about star-struck lovers that anticipates the use of ‘Pan’ as a codename for sexual attraction, as recorded in her romantic liaison with William Orton in 1911, and used in the story ‘Epilogue II’. Mansfield’s generic versatility – lyric, satire, parody and elegy – is also on display, and the neo Romanticism and early modernism of ‘The Earth Child’ cycle might in time stand out in stylistic contrast to the much-anthologised elegies ‘To Stanislaw Wyspianski’ and ‘To L.H.B.’ (the haunting poem about her brother’s death), which are usually seen as her poetic signature.
The most exciting feature of volume 3 is the section of Mansfield’s translations, gathered here for the first time. These attest to her passion for Russian and Slavonic literature, her multilingualism and the sheer volume of her work as a co-translator. Mansfield translated only one work herself, ‘M. Seguin’s Goat’, from the French. Her collaborative work has hitherto been largely invisible, due to the omission of her name in favour of John Middleton Murry’s in their collaborations with the Russian Jewish émigré, S.S. Koteliansky, in translating works by Anton Chekhov, Alexander Kuprin and Lev Shestov. Mansfield and Koteliansky’s translations of Chekhov’s letters, first published in the Athenaeum in 1919, feature, as do three previously unpublished translations: ‘The Judges’, a play by the Polish patriot Stanislaw Wyspianski, specially transcribed for this edition (a co-translation with Floryan Sobieniowski); ‘The Dream’, a prose poem by Tolstoy; and ‘The Creative History of “The Devils”’ by Dostoevsky (both co-translated with Koteliansky). In her erudite introduction and notes to this section, Claire Davison consolidates her earlier research on Mansfield’s new-found place in modernist translation studies, which was published in her monograph, Translation as Collaboration: Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and S.S. Koteliansky (2014).
Section 3, ‘Parodies, Pastiches, and Aphorisms’, identifies for the first time Mansfield’s miscellaneous writing as a discrete category reflecting the ‘coruscating wit’ that runs throughout her writing, and the sense of humour with which she transgressed generic boundaries and subverted social norms. Dating from 1910-13, many of these sharp and witty pieces can be attributed to Mansfield’s friendship with Beatrice Hastings at a time when both were contributing to the New Age. As elsewhere in volume 3, newly discovered works by Mansfield in these interrelated genres are published for the first time: ‘Sumurun: An impression of Leopoldine Konstantin’ (an actress on the London stage in 1911); the aphorism ‘Bites from the Apple’ (1911), and the parody ‘Virginia’s Journal’ (1913).
The final section, ‘Reviews and Essays’, covers all of Mansfield’s critical writing, usually undertaken as paid work in order to scratch out a living, and dating from 1912 when she first joined Rhythm and co-wrote with Murry the two landmark manifestos of this radical avant garde magazine that are included here. The 300 pages of reviews reproduce those published by Murry in Novels and Novelists (1930) and in Claire Hanson’s edition, The Critical Writings of Katherine Mansfield (1987), and include several others that have been previously overlooked. Mansfield’s engagement as critic with novels and short-story writing, and her illuminating reflections on aesthetics and fiction’s social and political contexts such as the war and Bolshevikism, constitute a unique commentary on early twentieth-century literary culture. Yet this comprehensive collection also reveals the sorry story of her life, of being overlooked in a male-dominated literary culture, her reclusiveness due to ill health, her search for cures and spirituality, and the frustrations of her marriage to Murry.
Volume 4, The Diaries of Katherine Mansfield, refers to the work of previous editors, notably Murry, whose expurgated versions in Mansfield’s Journal (1927), Scrapbook (1939) and Definitive Journal (1954), kept her name alive in a period when she was deemed a ‘minor’ writer; and Margaret Scott, whose 1997 Katherine Mansfield Notebooks has been an indispensable reference work for Mansfield scholars. Volume 4 is dedicated to the memory of Scott for her ‘pioneering work in deciphering the notebooks’. One might well ask if another edition of the notebooks is necessary, given Scott’s authoritative transcription and comprehensive edition. The editors claim theirs is an ‘unexpurgated and chronologically ordered edition’, and recommend Scott’s work for readers who wish to focus on the contents of any specific notebook.
But the new edition is in fact a slimmed-down version of Scott’s work for the reason that the diaries had already been raided for poems, stories and story fragments that were published in volumes 1–3 of the Edinburgh Edition. This editorial decision, taken early in the series – to identify some diary entries as fictions or poems and publish them separately from those designated as journal entries – is problematic. Readers of volume 4 will benefit from the continuous chronology, but will have to consult either Scott’s Notebooks or volumes 1–3 of the Edinburgh Edition in order to access the diaries as discrete texts and discover their comprehensiveness. This editorial divergence in approach and rationale is therefore a serious one. It underlines the huge problem of editing Mansfield, whose journals were described by Scott as ‘an amorphous and nearly illegible mass of material’ (1997, xv), and whose almost indecipherable handwriting and erratic compositional practices are notorious: obstacles include undated entries, fragments, lists and doodles, and notes scribbled up and down the page as well as across. Such a minefield raises the question of whether any boundary between her stream-of-consciousness confidences to her journal and the moment of writing a story can in fact be drawn. In sum, the editorial differences between Scott’s predominantly text-based approach and Kimber and Davison’s chronological one, coupled with their divergent evaluations of the diaries’ status – either as intact notebooks or as a mélange of journal entries and fictional, poetic fragments – leaves us with two quite different versions. It is likely that volume 4 will be used alongside Scott’s edition rather than replace it completely.
Despite the discrepant editorial practices that emerge from the treatment of the Diaries, the scholarly excellence of the new edition – with comprehensive notes and accurate textual annotations – is in no doubt. And the publication of all of Mansfield’s extant nonfiction and poetry in these volumes gives us a far more complex, multidimensional picture of her as polyglot. Volume 3 demonstrates her richly varied encounter with her European and colonial heritages as marked by her poetry and collaborative translation projects, and refracted through multiple generic forms, both creative and critical, as continuing, critiquing and remaking the inherited tradition. Volume 4 contains the diaries’ often painful revelations of the gains and losses of a literary life spent largely on the margins: the faltering of her creative powers due to failing health and the troubled relationship with Murry; the glimpses of brilliance snatched in the midst of despair; her energies sapped by reviewing; and the valued collaboration with Koteliansky that lasted almost until her death.
Together, the two volumes are an absorbing record of an early twentieth-century literary life that touches and crosses many social, artistic and cultural boundaries. They impressively complete the remit of the Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works in making Mansfield newly available for twenty-first-century readers, by drawing on current-century literary and scholarly contexts and showing her as more than ever ‘our contemporary’. As up-to-date, learned and accessible editions that all Mansfield scholars and readers will want to hold and possess, they are a tribute to the commitment of the editors and Edinburgh University Press. In particular we owe much to the dedication of Gerri Kimber who was inspired to produce this series and who has been centrally involved in the planning and editing of all four volumes.
JANET M. WILSON is a professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Northampton, UK. She has published widely on Katherine Mansfield and other New Zealand writers, including the recent Routledge Diaspora Studies Reader (2017). She is vice-chair of the Katherine Mansfield Society, and co-editor of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing and the series Studies in World Literature.