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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 5 (September 1, 1933)

Katherine Mansfield — How Kathleen Beauchamp Came Into Her Own

page 6

Katherine Mansfield
How Kathleen Beauchamp Came Into Her Own.

A proofed copy of the following article by Mr. Mills was read by Sir Harold Beauchamp, who wrote, in returning the proof of the article: — “This I consider excellent, and I do not propose to suggest any alterations, as that would be tantamount to ‘painting the lily and adorning the rose.’ There is no one in New Zealand better qualified to speak of Kathleen's early efforts to get a footing on the rung of the literary ladder.”

Katherine Mansfield.

Katherine Mansfield.

On a plot of land at the top of Fitzherbert Terrace, Wellington, almost opposite the house in which she lived with her folks before she left to begin her now famous literary career in London, a delightful rest-house for tramway sojourners has been erected as a memorial to “Katherine Mansfield” by her father, Sir Harold Beauchamp.

It is rather remarkable, yet in a way nationally characteristic, that the form of the memorial was suggested to the Wellington writer's father by a Japanese, Mr. Hashimoto, during a tour of the Dominion last year.

Mr. Hashimoto visited Wellington with the definite object of getting some personal notes on Katherine Mansfield on the spot, as he is engaged in writing a Life of New Zealand's storyteller, “My Beloved Authoress,” as the Japanese phrased it. He has a Japanese reading cult interested because he has Japanesed some of her short stories.

It must appear strange to New Zealanders, who know less about the Mansfieldian works than literary folks overseas, to learn of the series of pilgrimages to Wellington by writers to gather material for books about the Empire City's very own gifted daughter. Miss Ruth Mantz visited Wellington and London for such a purpose, and this Californian met an Italian lady, from the University of Venice, whose thesis for her doctorate in languages is to be a Life of Katherine Mansfield.

Not only so, but there is a Chinese scholar in Peiping who is translating and publishing the K.M. stories.

“Les Annales,” an illustrated magazine published in Paris, contained in recent issues glowing tributes of the New Zealander's stories and articles, written by a well-known French writer, M. Francis Carco. Her work has had frequent translation into French publications.

I was informed recently by a tourist out of the far fields that even in America they were better informed concerning the works of Katherine Mansfield than are New Zealanders. But that I doubt, for Middleton Murry, London critic, who married Katherine Beauchamp, published even the scrappy notes left by his wife, some of which fragments are apt to do her literary reputation more harm than good. And as all these books came to New Zealand they would be bought and read out here.

Yet, apart from her own writings, very little, really, is known about New Zealand's most notable daughter. How many Wellingtonians know that she attended school in Karori, that she was a clever ‘cellist, that her christened name was Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp? When she reached years of discretion she changed the “leen” to “erine” because she did not like the other affixette.

My own contact with the gifted girl—for she was then only eighteen years of age—came about in an unusual manner, and I knew of her talents months before I met her.

It was at a cricket match on the Basin Reserve that the subject came up. The members of the Beauchamp family were cricket fans—the father and Kathleen's two elder sisters.

I was in the pavilion reporting the match for the “Post” when Harold Beauchamp (he had not received his title thenadays) sat down by my bench.

During the interval Mr. Beauchamp made a remark about an article I had contributed to a London magazine, and then observed:

“I have a daughter, Mills, who thinks she can write, and her mother thinks so, too.”

“What does Father think?” said I.

“Oh, I don't know anything about poetry and stories.”

page 7

“Ah!” I exclaimed. “Has she the double gift?”

“Well—she writes! Would you be good enough to read some of her efforts and pass judgment upon them. She would appreciate a candid opinion, and so should I.”

I agreed to do so, provided she did not fire the MS. of a novel at me for a start.

Months followed.

Then came a telephone message:

“Kathleen Beauchamp speaking,” said the voice.

“You promised my father, Harold Beauchamp, that you would read any manuscript I would submit to you for criticism and tell me your opinion. I have a batch ready for you. I have been at work on them ever since Father told me of his talk with you.”

I discovered in this literary Beauchamp a girl, bright, well read and informed on general topics, obviously a thinker, and not the least bit diffident about her writings. She was quite convinced in herself that she could write—that she had the gift to write.

Then why consult me?

She had to convince her own people that she could write, so as to achieve her life's ambition, which was to create a career for herself in the one place in this wide world that mattered—London.

She gave me a thin packet containing three poems and six very short stories, all of which she said she had specially written, painstakingly, for my judgment.

I read them all at my home that evening with astonished delight. For I had discovered a genius right there in Wellington!

As a reader of MS.S, over a number of years for the “New Zealand Mail,’ the “New Zealand Times,” and the “Evening Post,” as well as being a reviewer of books, I had read very many compositions of all sorts from all parts of both islands.

But Kathleen Beauchamp was different—very emphatically different.

I told her so next day.

(Rly Publicity photo.) The Katherine Mansfield Memorial, Fitzherbert Terrace, Wellington.

(Rly Publicity photo.)
The Katherine Mansfield Memorial, Fitzherbert Terrace, Wellington.

She took the judgment as a matter of course, and said: “Do tell Father that!”

Said I: “Besides telling your father, we will proceed to convince him with an £. s. d. verdict.”

I wrote on the top of each MS. the name of a magazine to which she should send it.

The poems were the sweetest child verse—the most rare and difficult of compositions—I had ever read. These were sent to Harper's, in New York.

There was difficulty about placing the six stories, because they were all typically Mansfieldian. The magazine field for such stories was very limited in those days. I recommended only two—one in Australia, the other in London.

In the sequel to the voyage of these argosies Kathleen scored a world record as a writer. For not only were all her first offerings accepted and paid for by cheque in return mail—but the first refusal of her future stories was requested by both magazine editors.

Can any reader of the “Railways Magazine” name any other writer in the whole realm of literature whose first offerings to editors did not have one “returned—unsuitable!”

At our last meeting in Wellington before leaving for London, Kathleen felt so sanguine of success that she said she would dedicate her first book to me.

“Don't do anything so unbusinesslike,” I replied. “You follow the old practice of a dedication to some Londoner whose name on a book is worth an edition.”

Her instant success in London gave her the material for her first book, “In a German Pension,” comprising a series of sketches she wrote for a London weekly journal, which sent her to Europe to write up the most famous and fashionable health resorts.

Did I correspond with her? No. I received only one communication from her. It came on a postcard from the Alps, in Spain. That was the beginning of her breakdown in health, which ended so tragically in France in her 33rd year.