Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The Life of Katherine Mansfield

Chapter XII: The Growing of Wings

page 243

Chapter XII: The Growing of Wings

“The head can offer no account.” —Keats.


“I Wish that I was as far advanced in my work as you are in yours—but I am far from it,” Kass had written to “E.K.B.” —Edith (“Edie”) Kathleen Bendall—early in 1907.

About this time the following entry appeared in her Note Book:

“There is—I think Mr. Trowell. Definitely I have decided not to be a musician—It's not my forte—I can plainly see—The fact remains at that—I must be an authoress. Cæsar (A.T.) is losing hold of me. Edie (E.K.B.) is waiting for me—I shall slip into her arms. They are safest. Do you love me?”

Everyone remembers the laughter greeting her announcement:“I'm going to be a writer!” Her Aunt and Rose remember it, and her cousins, and her friends. It was more than half due to her challenging gesture; less than half because she didn't look the part, and because she had been “just Kass” to them for so long.

Independent though she was, Kathleen was always seeking for someone in immediate sympathy—someone to create for, someone to speak to in creating. page 244 Her need was peculiar, and intimately her own. The warm immediate relation she sought was to be, as it were, the touchstone of her art-speech, to save it from the cynicism and bitterness which, she felt, were always threatening to engulf her. As intuitively she felt towards an art in accord with the simple miracle of human love, so instinctively she felt towards simple human affection as the soil in which alone her peculiar art could come to flower. What the relation meant for her she defined when writing of her husband thirteen years later.“In fact we are—apart from everything else—each other's critic in that he ‘sees’ me, I see myself reflected as more than I appear and yet not more than I AM, and so I believe it is with him.” Someone in whom she could see herself reflected as more than she appeared, and yet not more than she was—someone in the security of whose affection she could let unfold the sensitive tendrils of childlike delight and childlike desire which were her essential and secret self—such a one she found at this barren moment in E.K.B. Years afterwards, when she would speak of E.K.B., the “special” note of tenderness would enter her voice, a sure witness to her abiding affection for one of the few friends she had known who had enabled her to be herself.

As early as 1901 Edith Bendall had made little water-colour sketches of dark Maori babies for Kass's album. Her ambition to be an artist—to draw children—had crystallised long before Kathleen Beauchamp's aim was focussed. She had a real flair for portraits of children; they blossomed like page 245 flowers under her hand—so alive, so mobile, such minute individuals.

If she walked down Tinakori Road and saw a row of little round heads, like pale lanterns in the gloom of the Chinaman's Shop, or if she went into the country and saw Maori babies tumbling about an old pah, she could keep their faces individual and distinct in memory until she had painted them. Indeed, she could remember for years the face of a child who had delighted her.

She and Kathleen stimulated each other's observation—fanned the creative fire. Kathleen's interest in children was mainly artistic: she saw them as colour studies—bright butterfly bows hovering above the fringe and long curls (the fashion for children then).“The Little Girl with the Fringe” was the child who ran so lightly through those verses.

Kathleen, watching the children as she walked through the Botanical Gardens or down Lambton Quay, made mental notes for daily letters to E.K.B. In one she described a group on the Quay: a small red-haired girl in a green frock, sitting on the steps of a bead shop holding oranges in her lap, the envy of a small boy in a holland suit and his smaller sister emerging from an enormous pinafore—her “aggressive little braid” (like the triangular tail of a kitten) tied with a huge orange bow. Sympathetic Ida receiving letters that were “one long wail,” might well have been astonished at these notes—so gay, brimming with colour, with tender amusement.

There had always been a baby in the Beauchamp home; Kass knew children well. Jeanne—a quaint child in sunbonnets, a tiny thing with minute hands page 246 and feet—had been heard to say:“Daddy's afraid I'm going to be a dwarf.” Leslie “looked such a darling,” Kathleen thought, with his short fluff of curls and beaming smile under the huge straw hat he wore pushed far back. All of this Kass drew upon, in retrospect, in her poems. Her own childhood had been precious to her—secret, lonely,“behind the Blue Mountains.” It was a vivid memory, and being back in New Zealand after long absence brought back so much of her fanciful past:“the cabbage tree with its hair out of curl,” and “shadow children thin and small.” Her mind became a sensitive plate to such impressions. Every memory, every observation gave her ideas for a poem. If Jeanne had a new leather belt and pulled her waist in like a young lady, Kass said:“I must write a poem on that!” This ardour, so focussed, so stimulated by E.K.B.'s devotion, inspired a series of verses which (when they were posthumously published) Walter de la Mare called “as true to childhood as any child poems that we know.”

E.K.B. was able to share Kathleen's retrospective childhood in another way: in the preference (which she still had) for very small things—some tiny shell found at the Bay, a minute flower that they could look down into and study—an unknown world which they entered by themselves.

Her friend was older than Kass. (She had no use for girls of her own age, except Maata, who also was living beyond her years.) E.K.B., who might herself have sat for a Wedgewood figure, thought Kathleen beautiful. One sketch, which she made of her while they were at the Bay, shows a round, thoughtful page 247 face with beautiful chiselled mouth, fine dark eyes, level brows, under a little winged Mercury hat. And E.K.B., like Ida, thought Kathleen's voice “wonderfully lovely—a voice that you couldn't forget.” Unlike Matty, she remembered her as always laughing—effervescing with mischief and amusement over the comical situations she noticed when they were together, or which she saved to tell.

When the sketches and verses were finished, in June (1907), Kass copied out the poems in violet ink, in a leaping happy hand, and sent them with E.K.B.'s illustrations to an editor abroad.

The poems, alas, were rejected; but they were at least returned. The drawings were irretrievably lost. Probably it was this total shipwreck of her hopes which caused Kathleen to turn ironically upon the whole affair. She had exposed herself, and been repaid for her folly. So she reacted by professing to regard the episode as an absurd and childish interlude.

Here are consecutive entries in the black Note Book:

“(June 29).
“I do not think I shall ever be able to write any child verse again. The faculty has gone, I think.
“Now E.K.B. is a thing of the past …”

Yet, nearly a year later (April, 1908) she collaborated with her again, this time writing prose, reflecting once more something of her own childhood—the tender and lively sketches of The Thoughtful Child.

page 248


Though she was turning more and more toward writing, as time passed, Kathleen Beauchamp had by no means given up music. It was one of the bridges by which she could cross in an instant to London. Music and writing had, from the first, been associated in her mind—from that time when she was fourteen and composed her first booklet of verse, Little Fronds, on the Niwaru, after leaving Arnold Trowell in Wellington. Music stimulated her imagination—accelerated it; yet only writing quieted the violent surging within her.

“It is just eight o'clock” (she wrote in her Note Book)“Perhaps somewhere in the world he is waking or dressing, or playing or eating breakfast—and I am here— Well, greetings, Cæsar (A.T.) and a happy day to you. A letter from me arrives in London to-day. It is extraordinary to live so far from one's other self—and yet each day to feel nearer as I feel— Everything about him seems to be more plain—now. I think of him in any, every situation—and I feel that understand him, too … I love him—but I wonder with all my soul—and here is the kernel of the whole matter—the Oscar-like thread—I want to practically celebrate this day by beginning to write a book. In my brain, as I walk each day, as I speak, or even before playing my 'cello, a thousand delicate images float and are gone. I want to write a book that is unreal, yet wholly possible—because out of the question—that raises in the hearts of the readers emotions, sensations too vivid not to have effect, which causes a thousand delicate tears, a thousand sweet chimes of laughter. I shall never attempt anything approaching the histrionic; and it must be ultra-modern. I am sitting right over the fire as I page 249 write, dreaming, my face hot with coals. Far away a steamer is calling, calling, and—God, God—my restless soul!!!”

During that year she had worked intermittently on the “novel” Juliet, completing the first chapters, writing snatches of chapters to follow, but she abandoned it now. As she looked back to survey the year just passed, she didn't consider it even worth including in her year's achievement:

“I hate everybody, loathe myself, loathe my life and love Cæsar (A.T.) Each week, sometimes every day—tout dépend—when I think of that fascinating cult which I wish to absorb me, I come to the conclusion that all this shall truly end. Liberty—no matter what the cost, no matter what the trial. I begin, hideously unhappy, make, God knows, how many resolves, and then break them! One day I shall not do so.
“I shall ‘strike while the iron is white-hot,’ and praise myself and my unconquerable soul. From the amethyst outlook, the situation is devilishly fascinating, but it cannot be permanent. The charm consists mainly in its instability. I must wander; I cannot— will not—build a house on any damned rock. But money, money, money is what I need and do not possess. I find a resemblance in myself to John Addington Symonds.
“The day is white with frost; a low blue mist lingers daintily among the pine avenue. It is very cold and there is a sharp sound of carts passing—quite early, too. A tram-whistle sounds; a tram passes at the end of the street. The maids are putting away crockery. Downstairs in the music-room the 'cello is dreaming. I wonder if it shall be beneath the hands of its Master—I think not.
page 250
“Well, a year has passed. What has happened? London behind me—Him behind me—Cæsar gone. My music has gained, become a thing of 10,000 times more beauty and strength. I myself have changed rather curiously. I am colossally interesting to myself. One fascinating Day has been mine. My friend sent me Sonia.
“And I have written a book of child verse. How absurd. But I am very glad; it is too exquisitely novel. And while my thoughts are redolent of purple daisies and white sweetness of gardenias, I present the world ‘with this elegant thimble.’ I have been engaged to a young Englishman for three weeks because his figure was so beautiful. I have been terribly foolish many times, especially with Oscar Fox and Siegfried Eichelbaum—but that is past. This year coming will be memorable. It will celebrate the Cultivation of the inert, the full flowering of the Gardenia. This time next year I shall have been born again.”

Into this adolescent exoticism she reacted from the disappointment of her hopes for her book of verse. Meanwhile, as she waited for the realisation of her plans and dreams of returning to London, she filled the time, when she was not writing, with trio practices. Her friends, as they look back, remember her as “the 'cellist.” Milly Parker, one of the musicians who played with her, describes her own impression so different from Matty's impression, or E.K.B.'s:

“Windy days and a ‘cello is my first impression of her, for it was in Wellington and for trio practices that we met. A neighbour whose sons were at that time studying in Brussels, had received a composition from one of the boys (I remember the now noted’ cellist Mr. Arnold Trowell), a trio for violin, ‘cello and piano. page 251 I was asked to help with the piano part, and with the proud parent of the young composer playing the violin, some tremendous practising was done. And so a delightful acquaintance began. Our neighbour removed his household to London shortly afterward, but from that time until seas came between us, Miss Beauchamp brought her’ cello to our home for practice every Thursday morning without fail.
“It is easy to remember her standing at the door, with rather an air of a wandering minstrel, strands of wind blown hair clinging to a little round hat, her 'cello slung by a strap over her shoulder….
“I think of her dressed in brown, for she had a fancy to play in a frock that ‘toned’ with the 'cello, as though with a desire to merge herself with the instrument and that indeed was an understanding characteristic of her clever playing. Player and instrument were as one, and quaintly Bohemian, seeming almost a little foreign by way of strange temperament.
“At the time I knew her Kass Beauchamp was a remarkable 'cellist for the short period which she had then been studying the instrument, and she was a person of unexpected replies, too, I recall. To a party of friends one afternoon she played the Boellmann Variation Symphonique very beautifully. At the conclusion of the piece someone exclaimed, ‘I do wish I could play the 'cello.’ ‘So do I!’ was the quick response.”

She alternated, in her work with Mr. Trowell, between the depths of discouragement and depression, and the heights of happiness and transport. She reflected in her playing, as in her writing, her state of mind, her mood of the moment, her ideal of herself or of Arnold. When she felt she was becoming a musician, and Mr. Trowell was pleased with her progress and talent, she soared on wings: when she page 252 felt she was not growing at the swift pace she had set herself, she was desperate. In all this she was not unlike Marie Bashkirtseff—in those days at the studio when the Russian girl could be lifted to dizzy heights, or dashed to despair by the Master's word or look. Kathleen's was a different and more varied record; but the desperate struggle against being “nailed to the same place,” the divination of the imperative need for a rapid, an early flowering of a life which was to be cut short, was paramount in both.

“Evening. June 25, 1907.
“All the morning I played very difficult music and was happy. In the afternoon came Cæsar's father and I played. I was unhappy. I did not play well; my hand and wrist hurt me horribly, and I did not feel that glorious hidden well of music deep in me. I was too sad. Cæsar's father depressed me. I felt that something was making him suffer, and I knew what it was; so I suffered, too… I gave them a great bouquet of camellias to take home. I played a whole Bach concerto by sight, and Mr. T. had copied for me something beautiful. I am glad that it came into my life to-day. Then in the Abendämmerung I went out into the streets… It was so beautiful; the full moon was like a strain of music heard through a closed door. Mist over everything. The hills mere shadows to-night. I became terribly unhappy; I almost wept in the street; and yet music enveloped me again, caught me, held me, thank Heaven! I would have died, I should be dead but for that. I sent Mr. T. a beautiful book, something that I truly treasure.”
“Aug. 27.
“A happy day. I have spent a perfect day” (she wrote in a leaping, happy hand).“Never have I page 253 loved Mr. Trowell so much, or felt so in accord with him, and my 'cello expressing everything. This morning we played Weber's Trio—tragic, fiercely dramatic, full of rhythm and accent. And then this afternoon, I became frightened. I felt that I had nothing to play—that I could not touch the concerto, that I had not improved. How horrible it was—yet the sunlight lay on the Music-room floor—and my 'cello was warm to touch. He came—and in the instant we understood each other and I think he was happy. O joyous time, it was almost inhuman—and to hear that, ‘Bravely done—You've a real good grip of it all. Very good.’ I would not have changed those words for all the laurel wreaths in existence. And to end with a Weber Fugue passage for first violin and then 'cello. It bit into my blood. Aprés we had tea and currant buns in the Smoking Room and ate to the accompaniment of the Fugue. And discussed Marriage and Music—the mistake that a woman makes ever to think she is first in a musician's estimation; it must inevitably be first his Art. I know; I understand; and also lack of sympathy. If I marry Cæsar—and I thought of him all the time— I think I could prove a great many things. Mr. Trowell said—‘She must share his glories and always keep him on the heights.’… He could not infuse enough love into his voice this afternoon, nor I for him. Good evening—my Cæsar—To-night I shall speak through your music.”

Crossing that silver bridge by her music—so swiftly, so lightly, was enough at isolated moments of rapture; but at night in her room when the windy, bracing day had passed, dark thoughts crowded upon her and she longed for something more. Then, not even writing could shut away loneliness; she might pour out all her ardent longing for London, but the words were cramped and page 254 cold on the page. Well enough to write stories and sketches, or verse, by daylight; but late at night only letters could suffice. Then it was she wrote so volubly to Ida, to Gwen, to Mimi, but most particularly to Arnold:


Though I do not see you, know that I am yours—every thought—every feeling in me belongs to you—I wake in the morning and have been dreaming of you—and all through the day, while my outer life is going on steadily—monotonously, even drearily—my inner life I live with you—in leaps and bounds. I go through with you every phase of emotion that is possible—loving you. To me you are man, lover, artist, husband, friend—giving me all— and I surrendering you all—everything—And so this loneliness is not so terrible to me—because in reality my outer life is but a phantom life—a world of intangible, meaningless grey shadow—my inner life pulsates with sunshine and music and happiness— unlimited, vast unfathomable wells of happiness and you. One day we shall be together again and then— and then, only, I shall realise myself—shall come to my own—because I feel—I have always felt—that you hold in your hands—just those closing, final bars which leave my life song incomplete—because you are to me more necessary than anything else. Nothing matters—nothing is while you usurp my life—O—let it remain as it is. Do not suddenly crush out this, the beautiful flower—I am afraid—even while I am rejoicing….

“Kath Schönfeld.”

What she wrote in her Note Book during those days of impatient waiting for release made the time endurable; they were not mere letters—were conversations, rather, as she weighed for herself the page 255 events of the day and the importance and meaning of all this in her life:

“Rain beating upon the windows and a wind-storm violent and terrible. I came up into my room to go to bed—and suddenly—half undressed—I began thinking and looking at Cæsar's portrait—and wondering. Now I feel that I could have written: ‘Beloved, I could bury my face in the pillow and weep and weep and weep. Here it is night and wind and the rain. You are in a flood of sunlight and daylight and the thunder of traffic—the (wave?) of life. I must possess it, too—I must suffer and conquer—I must leave here—I cannot look ahead into the unutterable grey vastness of misty future years. Do you know that you are all in all—you are my Life… I am bored and miserable to-night, so forgive me. I am sick of barrenness and I want to laugh and I want to listen—Words will not be found—but how Ifeel, and now to bed, hopefully to lie and look into the darkness and think, and weave beautiful scarlet patterns—and hope to dream— My 'cello is better, but I fancy Mr. Trowell is annoyed with me. That must not happen. What is to become of us all—I am so eager—and yet that is all

Buon ripose.

Then there came a letter that for the time changed everything—about Arnold Trowell. Ida was faithfully sending Kathleen cuttings from London papers, notices of his recitals. When he played, she gleaned every morning and evening paper, carefully labelling notices even of three lines. If she heard any word of him, she sent it speedily. On August 28th, the mail brought particular news from her; Arnold said, later, that she had been misinformed, but Kathleen could not know that, then. It was one page 256 of those times when a letter seemed to shatter her world:

“I had a letter from Adeläida to-day about Arnold Trowell— And at present I have no idea how I felt. First so sorrowful, so hurt, so pained—that I contemplated the most outrageous things; but now only old and angry and lonely, and as though everything except my 'cello had lost its interest for me—Now what is it to be? Shall I applaud him in his manner of living— Shall I say—Do as you please—Live as you like—See Life—gain Experience, increase your outlook, or shall I condemn it. This is how I think. It's a great pity that artists do live so. But as they do—well—But I shall not.”