Journal of Katherine Mansfield
[January - February 1916]
January 22. [Villa Pauline, Bandol.] Now, really, what is it that I do want to write? I ask myself, Am I less of a writer than I used to be? Is the need to write less urgent? Does it still seem as natural to me to seek that form of expression? Has speech fulfilled it? Do I ask anything more than to relate, to remember, to assure myself?
There are times when these thoughts halffrighten me and very nearly convince. I say: You are now so fulfilled in your own being, in being alive, in living, in aspiring towards a greater sense of life and a deeper loving, the other thing has gone out of you.
But no, at bottom I am not convinced, for at bottom never has my desire been so ardent. Only the form that I would choose has changed utterly. I feel no longer concerned with the same appearance of things. The people who lived or whom I wished to bring into my stories don't interest me any more. The plots of my stories leave me perfectly cold. Granted that these people exist and all the differences, complexities and resolutions are true to them—why should I write about them? They are not near me. All the false threads that bound me to them are cut away quite.page 42
Now—now I want to write recollections of my own country. Yes, I want to write about my own country till I simply exhaust my store. Not only because it is “a sacred debt” that I pay to my country because my brother and I were born there, but also because in my thoughts I range with him over all the remembered places. I am never far away from them. I long to renew them in writing.
Ah, the people—the people we loved there—of them, too, I want to write. Another “debt of love.” Oh, I want for one moment to make our undiscovered country leap into the eyes of the Old World. It must be mysterious, as though floating. It must take the breath. It must be “one of those islands….” I shall tell everything, even of how the laundry-basket squeaked at 75. But all must be told with a sense of mystery, a radiance, an afterglow, because you, my little sun of it, are set. You have dropped over the dazzling brim of the world. Now I must play my part.
Then I want to write poetry. I feel always trembling on the brink of poetry. The almond tree, the birds, the little wood where you are, the flowers you do not see, the open window out of which I lean and dream that you are against my shoulder, and the times that your photograph “looks sad.” But especially I want to write a kind of long elegy to you … perhaps not in poetry. Nor perhaps in prose. Almost certainly in a kind of special prose.
And, lastly, I want to keep a kind of minute page 43 notebook, to be published some day. That's all. No novels, no problem stories, nothing that is not simple, open.
February 13. I have written practically nothing yet, and now again the time is getting short. There is nothing done. I am no nearer my achievement than I was two months ago, and I keep half-doubting my will to perform anything. Each time I make a move my demon says at almost the same moment: “Oh, yes, we've heard that before!” And then I hear R.B. in the Café Royal, “Do you still write?” If I went back to England without a book finished I should give myself up. I should know that, whatever I said, I was not really a writer and had no claim to “a table in my room.” But if I go back with a book finished it will be a profession de foi pour toujours. Why do I hesitate so long? Is it just idleness? Lack of will-power? Yes, I feel that's what it is, and that's why it's so immensely important that I should assert myself. I have put a table to-day in my room, facing a corner, but from where I sit I can see some top shoots of the almond-tree and the sea sounds loud. There is a vase of beautiful geraniums on the table. Nothing could be nicer than this spot, and it's so quiet and so high, like sitting up in a tree. I feel I shall be able to write here, especially towards twilight.
Ah, once fairly alight—how I'd blaze and burn! Here is a new fact. When I am not writing I feel my brother calling me, and he is not happy. Only when I write or am in a state of writing—a state page 44 of “inspiration”—do I feel that he is calm…. Last night I dreamed of him and Father Zossima. Father Zossima said: “Do not let the new man die.” My brother was certainly there. But last evening he called me while I sat down by the fire. At last I obeyed and came upstairs. I stayed in the dark and waited. The moon got very bright. There were stars outside, very bright twinkling stars, that seemed to move as I watched them. The moon shone. I could see the curve of the sea and the curve of the land embracing, and above in the sky there was a round sweep of cloud. Perhaps those three half-circles were very magic. But then, when I leaned out of the window I seemed to see my brother dotted all over the field —now on his back, now on his face, now huddled up, now half-pressed into the earth. Wherever I looked, there he lay. I felt that God showed him to me like that for some express purpose, and I knelt down by the bed. But I could not pray. I had done no work. I was not in an active state of grace. So I got up finally and went downstairs again. But I was terribly sad…. The night before, when I lay in bed, I felt suddenly passionate. I wanted J. to embrace me. But as I turned to speak to him or to kiss him I saw my brother lying fast asleep, and I got cold. That happens nearly always. Perhaps because I went to sleep thinking of him, I woke and was he, for quite a long time. I felt my face was his serious, sleepy face. I felt that the lines of my mouth were changed, and I blinked like he did on waking.page 45
This year I have to make money and get known. I want to make enough money to be able to give L.M. some. In fact, I want to provide for her. That's my idea, and to make enough so that J. and I shall be able to pay our debts and live honourably. I should like to have a book published and numbers of short stories ready. Ah, even as I write, the smoke of a cigarette seems to mount in a reflective way, and I feel nearer that kind of silent, crystallised being that used to be almost me.
February 14. I begin to think of an unfinished memory which has been with me for years. It is a very good story if only I can tell it right, and it is called “Lena.” It plays in New Zealand and would go in the book. If only I can get right down to it.
Dear brother, as I jot these notes, I am speaking to you. To whom did I always write when I kept those huge complaining diaries? Was it to myself? But now as I write these words and talk of getting down to the New Zealand atmosphere, I see you opposite to me, I see your thoughtful, seeing eyes. Yes, it is to you. We were travelling—sitting opposite to each other and moving very fast. Ah, my darling, how have I kept away from this tremendous joy? Each time I take up my pen you are with me. You are mine. You are my playfellow, my brother, and we shall range all over our country together. It is with you that I see, and that is why I see so clearly. That is a great mystery. My brother, I have doubted these page 46 last few days. I have been in dreadful places. I have felt that I could not come through to you. But now, quite suddenly, the mists are rising, and I see and I know you are near me. You are more vividly with me now this moment than if you were alive and I were writing to you from a short distance away. As you speak my name, the name you call me by that I love so—“Katie!”—your lip lifts in a smile—you believe in me, you know I am here. Oh, Chummie! put your arms round me. I was going to write: Let us shut out everybody. But no, it is not that. Only we shall look on at them together. My brother, you know, with all my desire, my will is weak. To do things—even to write absolutely for myself and by myself—is awfully hard for me. God knows why, when my desire is so strong. But just as it was always our delight to sit together—you remember?—and to talk of the old days, down to the last detail—the last feeling—looking at each other and by our eyes expressing when speech ended how intimately we understood each other—so now, my dear one, we shall do that again. You know how unhappy I have been lately. I almost felt: Perhaps “the new man” will not live. Perhaps I am not yet risen…. But now I do not doubt. It is the idea (it has always been there, but never as it is with me to-night) that I do not write alone. That in every word I write and every place I visit I carry you with me. Indeed, that might be the motto of my book. There are daisies on the table and a red flower, like a poppy, shines through. Of daisies I will write. Of the page 47 dark. Of the wind—and the sun and the mists. Of the shadows. Ah! of all that you loved and that I too love and feel. To-night it is made plain. However often I write and rewrite I shall not really falter, dearest, and the book shall be written and ready.
February 15. I have broken the silence. It took long. Did I fail you when I sat reading? Oh, bear with me a little. I will be better. I will do all, all that we would wish. Love, I will not fail. To-night it is very wild. Do you hear? It is all wind and sea. You feel that the world is blowing like a feather, springing and rocking in the air like a balloon from Lindsay's. I seem to hear a piano sometimes, but that's fancy. How loud the wind sounds! If I write every day faithfully a little record of how I have kept faith with you—that is what I must do. Now you are back with me. You are stepping forward, one hand in your pocket. My brother, my little boy brother! Your thoughtful eyes! I see you always as you left me. I saw you a moment alone—by yourself—and quite lost, I felt. My heart yearned over you then. Oh, it yearns over you to-night and now! Did you cry? I always felt: He never, never must be unhappy. Now I will come quite close to you, take your hand, and we shall tell this story to each other.
February 16. I found “The Aloe”1 this morning. And when I had re-read it I knew that I was not page 48 quite “right” yesterday, No, dearest, it was not just the spirit. “The Aloe” is right. “The Aloe” is lovely. It simply fascinates me, and I know that it is what you would wish me to write. And now I know what the last chapter is. It is your birth—your coming in the autumn. You in Grandmother's arms under the tree, your solemnity, your wonderful beauty. Your hands, your head—your helplessness, lying on the earth, and, above all, your tremendous solemnity. That chapter will end the book. The next book will be yours and mine. And you must mean the world to Linda; and before ever you are born Kezia must play with you—her little Bogey. Oh, Bogey—I must hurry. All of them must have this book. It is good, my treasure! My little brother, it is good, and it is what we really meant.
February 17. I am sad to-night. Perhaps it is the old forlorn wind. And the thought of you spiritually is not enough to-night. I want you by me. I must get deep down into my book, for then I shall be happy. Lose myself, lose myself to find you, dearest. Oh, I want this book to be written. It Must be done. It must be bound and wrapped and sent to New Zealand. I feel that with all my soul…. It will be.
1 “The Aloe” was the original version of Prelude. It exists in its original and longer form, and will be published with the remaining fragments of Katherine Mansfield's writings.