The Doves' Nest and Other Stories
Katherine Mansfield died at Fontainebleau on January 9th, 1923, at the age of thirty-four.
This volume contains all the complete stories, and several fragments of stories, which she wrote at the same time as, or after, those published in "The Garden Party and Other Stories." Her earlier work, belonging to the period between her first book, "In a German Pension," and her second, "Bliss and Other Stories," will be published in one or two separate volumes in a collected edition of her work. Thus the continuity of her writing will be preserved, and an opportunity given to those who care for such things to follow the development of a talent now generally recognised as among the rarest of her generation.
The title of this volume, "The Doves' Nest and Other Stories," is the title which Katherine Mansfield intended to give to it. Whether the stories which compose it are those she would finally have included in it, I cannot say. Her page x standard of self-criticism was continually changing, and changing always in the direction of a greater rigour. In writings which I thought perfect she, with her keener insight, discerned unworthy elements. Now that I am forced to depend upon my own sole judgment, it has seemed to me that there is not a scrap of her writing—not even the tiniest fragment—during this final period which does not bear the visible impress of her exquisite individuality and her creative power.
On October 27, 1921, soon after she had finished and sent to her publisher the stories which compose "The Garden Party," she wrote the following plan of her new book in her journal. (The letters L. and N.Z. mean that the stories were to have London or New Zealand for their setting.)
Stories for my New Book.
|N.Z.||Honesty: The Doctor, Arnold Cullen and his wife Lydia, and Archie the friend.|
|L.||Second Violin : Alexander and his friend in the train. Spring... wet lilac... spouting rain.|
|N.Z.||Six Years After : A wife and husband on board a steamer. They see someone who reminds them. The cold buttons.page xi|
|L.||Lives Like Logs of Driftwood: This wants to be a long, very well written story. The men are important, especially the lesser man. It wants a great deal of working... newspaper office.|
|N.Z.||A Weak Heart: Roddie on his bike in the evening, with his hands in his pockets, doing marvels by that dark tree at the corner of May Street.|
|L.||Widowed: Geraldine and Jimmie, a house overlooking Sloane Street and Square. Wearing those buds at her breast. " Married or not married " . . . From autumn to spring.|
|N.Z.||Our Maude: Husband and wife play duets : And a one a two a three a one a two three one ! His white waistcoats. Wifeling and Mahub ! What a girl you are !|
|N.Z.||At Karori : The little lamp. I seen it. And then they were silent.|
|N.Z.||Aunt Anne: Her life with the Tannhauser overture.|
Of these stories only the one called At Karori and subsequently entitled The Doll's House was finished, three days later, on October 30. Of some of the remaining stories there are considerable fragments, of three of them I have so far page xii discovered no trace at all. All the fragments I have found which indubitably belong to any of these stories I have included in this volume. I have also included other fragments which seemed to possess a separate existence, but I have reserved most of the shorter pieces for publication with her Journal.
Between October 1921, when the original plan of this volume was sketched, and the end of January 1922, she finished other stories which she had not foreseen. These were A Cup of Tea, Honeymoon, Taking the Veil, and the long, unfinished, yet somehow complete piece, A Married Man's Story. In January she also began The Doves' Nest, a story which was particularly important to her, and with the writing of which —at least at the beginning—she was satisfied. She wrote in her journal on New Year's Day, 1922 :
Wrote The Doves' Nest this afternoon. I was in no mood to write ; it seemed impossible. Yet, when I had finished three pages, they 'were all right!' This is a proof (never to be too often proved) that when one has thought out a story nothing remains but the labour.
She worked on and off at the The Doves' Nest during the following summer also. Unfortunately I can find no trace of her own manuscript. There is a fair, clean copy, typewritten by page xiii herself, of the portion printed in this book, but nothing more.
In February 1922 began three months of an exacting medical treatment in Paris, during which work became more and more a physical impossibility. Nevertheless, at the beginning of this time, on February 20th, she wrote The Fly. On her return to Switzerland in June she tried to resume work on The Doves' Nest and she wrote the scenario of a play ; but again physical weakness made work in the mountains impossible. To ease the strain on her heart she descended in to the valley in June. At Sierre she wrote more of The Doves' Nest, much more, alas, than remains; she also began the unfinished piece called Father and the Girls and finished the short story called The Canary. These were the last of the stories written by her which can be exactly dated. There is reason, however, to believe that the passage of the story called Six Years After which ends with the words: "Can one do nothing for the dead ? And for a long time the answer had been—Nothing !" was actually the last piece written by her. It seems to belong to the autumn of 1922, when she had, for a time, practically abandoned writing.
It was not, however, because of her physical weakness that she stopped writing in the late summer of 1922. The power of her spirit to triumph over the frailty of her body had been proved over and over again. She stopped writ- page xiv ing deliberately, not under compulsion. She felt that her whole attitude to life needed to be renewed, and she determined that she would write no more until it had been renewed.
Perhaps an idea of the way of her mind—or rather her whole being—was moving, may be gleaned from some extracts from her journal. At first, her dissatisfaction with her work took shape in a feeling that she was not exerting the whole of her powers or expressing the whole of her knowledge in her writings. As early as July 1921, when she was still engaged on the last of the stories for "The Garden Party," she wrote :
July 1921. I finished Mr and Mrs Dove yesterday. I am not altogether pleased with it. It's a little bit made up. It's not inevitable. I meant to imply that those two may not be happy together—that that is the kind of reason for which a young girl marries. But have I done so ? I don't think so. Besides it's not strong enough. I want to be nearer—far nearer than that. I want to use all my force, even when I am taking a fine line. And I have a sneaking notion that I have, at the end, used the doves unwarrantably. Tu sais ce que je veux dire. I used them to round off something—didn't I ? Is that quite my game ? No, it's not. It's not quite the kind of truth I'm after. Now for Susannah. All must be deeply felt.
And a few days later she wrote :
July 23. Finished An Ideal Family yesterday. It seems to me better than the Doves, but still it's not good enough. I worked at it hard enough, God knows, and yet I didn't get the deepest truth out of the idea, even once. What is this feeling ? I feel again that this kind of knowledge is too easy for me; it's even a kind of trickery. I know so much more. It looks and smells like a story, but I wouldn't buy it. I don't want to possess it—to live with it. No. Once I have written two more, I shall tackle something different—a long story— At the Bay, with more difficult relationships. That's the whole problem.
Yet a little later her vision of the cause of her own dissatisfaction deepened, and she began to define it in terms—of the insufficient clarity of her own spirit, and of the incompleteness of her inward life—which were to become more and more familiar.
Well, I must confess I have had an idle day—God knows why. All was to be written, but I just didn't write it. I thought I would, but I felt tired after tea, and rested instead. Is it good or bad in me to behave so ? I have a sense of guilt, but at the same time I know that to rest is the very best thing I can do. And for some page xvi reason there is a kind of booming in my head—which is horrid. But marks of earthly degradation still pursue me. I am not crystal clear. Above all else, I do still lack application. It's not right. There is so much to do, and I do so little. Look at the stories that wait and wait, just at the threshold., Why don't I let them in ? And their place would be taken by others who are lurking beyond, just out there— waiting for the chance.
Next day. Yet take this morning, for instance. I don't want to write anything. It's grey ; it's heavy and dull. And short stories seem unreal, and not worth doing. I don't want to write ? I want to live. What does one mean by that ? It's not too easy to say. But there you are !
Aug. 21. All this that I write, all that I am, is on the border of the sea. It's a kind of playing. I want to put all my force behind it, but somehow I cannot.
And again in the autumn of the year her incessant effort towards an inward purity—who but she would have dreamed that she lacked it ? —as a condition of soul essential to writing as she purposed to write, becomes still more manifest.
Oct. 16. Another radiant day. J. is typing my last story, The Garden Party, page xvii which I finished on my birthday. It took me nearly a month to ' recover ' from At the Bay. I made at least four false starts. But I could not get away from the sound of the sea and Beryl fanning her hair at the window. These things would not die down. But now I am not at all sure about that story. It seems to me it is a little 'wispy' —not what it might have been. The G.P. is better. But that is not good enough, either... The last few days, what one notices more than anything is the blue. Blue sky, blue mountains—all is a heavenly blueness! And clouds of all kinds—wings, soft white clouds, almost hard little golden islands, great mock-mountains. The gold deepens on the slopes. In fact, in sober fact, it is perfection. But the late evening is the time of times. Then, with that unearthly beauty before one, it is not hard to realise how far one has to go. To write something that will be worthy of that rising moon, that pale light. To be 'simple' enough as one would be simple before God.
Nov. 21. Since then I have only written The Doll's House. A bad spell has been on me. I have begun two stories, but then told them and they felt betrayed. It is absolutely fatal to give way to this temptation ... To-day I begin to write, seriously, The Weak Heart—a story which fascinates page xviii me deeply. What I feel it needs so peculiarly is a very subtle variation of tense from the present to the past and back again—and softness, lightness, and the feeling that all is in bud, with a play of humour over the character of Roddie. And the feeling of the Thorndon Baths, the wet, moist, oozy ... no, I know how it must be done.
May I be found worthy to do it! Lord, make me crystal clear for thy light to shine through.
The two stories which she told and then was forced to abandon "because they felt betrayed" were Honesty and All Serene. Of Weak Heart, as she subsequently called it, only fragments remain. There is the opening copied in careful writing, a few hurriedly written sentences from the middle—themes, as it were, hastily noted— and then, obviously written at top speed and decipherable only with great difficulty, the end.
The two following passages from her journal belong to the same months, October and November 1921. But they were written in another book, and one of them should be placed in point of time between the two previous entries. Katherine Mansfield's attempts at keeping a regular journal were intermittent. Nearly all the passages quoted here as from her "journal" were written on random pages of the little copy-books in which she composed her stories. In order to appreciate the first of the following passages fully page xix it should be remembered that it was written immediately after she had finished At the Bay.
Oct. 1921. I wonder why it should be so difficult to be humble. I do not think that I am a good writer; I realise my faults better than anyone else could realise them. I know exactly when I fail. And yet, when I have finished a story and before I have begun another, I catch myself greening my feathers. It is disheartening. There seems to be some bad old pride in my heart; a root of it that puts out a thick shoot on the slightest provocation ... This interferes very much with work. One can't be calm, clear, good as one must be, while it goes on. I look at the mountains, I try to pray—and I think of something clever. It's a kind of excitement within one which shouldn't be there. Calm yourself. Clear yourself. And anything that I write in this mood will be no good ; it will be full of sediment. If I were well, I would go off by myself somewhere and sit under a tree. One must learn, one must practise to forget oneself. I can't tell the truth about Aunt Anne unless I am free to enter into her life without self-consciousness. Oh, God! I am divided still, I am bad, I fail in my personal life. I lapse into impatience, temper, vanity, and so I fail as thy priest. Perhaps poetry will help.page xx
I have just thoroughly cleaned and attended to my fountain pen. If after this it leaks, then it is no gentleman!
Nov. 13, 1921. It is time I started a new journal. Come my unseen, my unknown, let us talk together. Yes, for the last two weeks I have written scarcely anything. I have been idle ; I have failed. Why ? Many reasons. There has been a kind of confusion in my consciousness. It has seemed as though there was no time to work. The mornings, if they are sunny, are taken up with sun-treatment; the post eats away the afternoon. And at night I am tired. But it goes deeper. Yes, you are right. I haven't felt able to yield to the kind of contemplation that is necessary. I haven't felt pure in heart, not humble, not good. There's been a stirring up of sediment. I look at the mountains and I see nothing but mountains. Be frank ! I read rubbish ... Out of hand ? Yes, that describes it. Dissipated, vague, not positive, and above all, above everything, not working as I should be working— wasting time.
Wasting time ! The old cry—the first and last cry. Why do ye tarry ? Ah, why indeed ? My deepest desire is to be a writer, to have 'a body of work' done— and there the work is, there the stories page xxi wait for me, grow tired, wilt, fade, because I will not come. When first they knock, how eager and fresh they are ! And I hear and I acknowledge them, and still I go on sitting at the window, playing with the ball of wool. What is to be done ?
I must make another effort at once. I must begin all over again. I must try and write simply, fully, freely, from my heart. Quietly, caring nothing for success or failure, but just going on...
But now to resolve ! And especially to keep in touch with life. With the sky, this moon, these stars, these cold candid peaks.
During the following summer at Sierre in Switzerland one could have believed that Katherine Mansfield had finally accomplished the task of inward purification she had set herself, and to me it seems that there is a halcyon clarity and calm diffused through the unfinished stories written there. But she was still secretly dissatisfied with herself and her work, and in the autumn, after a brief return to London, she deliberately decided to risk everything, to abandon the writing that was dearer than all else to her, in order to achieve that newness of heart without which her work and her life seemed to her unprofitable. At the end of October she retired, by herself, to a settlement at Fontaine-bleau, where she found what she sought. A page xxii few days after she had taken this final step, she wrote in a letter :
"No treatment on earth is any good to me really. It's all pretence. M. did make me heavier and a trifle stronger. But that was all, if I really face the facts. The miracle never came near happening. It couldn't. And as for my spirit—well as a result of that life at the Victoria-Palace I stopped being a writer. I have only written long or short scraps since The Fly. If I had gone on with my old life, I never would have written again, for I was dying of poverty of life.
I wish, when one writes about things, one didn't dramatise them so. I feel awfully happy about all this—And it's all as simple as can be ...
But in any case I shan't write any stories for three months, and I'll not have a book ready before the spring. It doesn't matter..."
And again, in reply to a friend who pleaded with her not to abandon writing, she wrote, on October 26th:
"As for writing stories and being true to one's gift—I could not write them if I were not here, even. I am at an end of my source for a time. Life has brought me no flow. I want to write, but differently, —far more steadily."
She believed that she could not express the change that had taken place in her even in letters, though indeed her letters were radiant with happiness:
"And yet I realise as I write, all this is no use. An old personality is trying to get back to the outside and observe, and it's not true to the facts at all. What I write seems so petty. In fact I cannot express myself in writing just now. The old mechanism isn't mine any longer and I can't control the new. I just have to talk this baby talk."
"I am not in a mood for books at present," she wrote finally, shortly before Christmas, "though I know that in future I shall want to write them more than anything else. But different books."
What those "different books" would have been we shall never know. She was seized by a sudden and fatal haemorrhage on the evening of January 9th. She is buried in the communal cemetery of Avon near Fontainebleau. On her gravestone are inscribed the words of Shakespeare she chose for the title-page of "Bliss," words which had long been cherished by her and were to prove prophetic :
" But I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety."