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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

[An unposted letter.]

page 235

[An unposted letter.]

May. Just a line to say—J. and I both have so much work to do this summer that we have decided when we leave here (end of this month) to go to the Hotel d'Angleterre, Randogne. Does that make you open your eyes? But in the summer, June and July, that place was so lovely and I know it. It would only take a day to settle and a look at the mountains, before we could work. All other arrangements are too difficult—Germany and so on. We have not, literally, the time to discover a new place and take our bearings. Then we shall be near Elizabeth, too. The winter we are going to spend in Bandol at the Beau Rivage. I am going to get a maid now at once. I can't do without one. I simply have not the time to attend to everything and I can't bear, as you know, ‘untidiness.’ … Don't speak of our plans, by chance, will you?

There is a really superb professional pianist here. He plays nearly all day and writes his own music. Au revoir. K. M.

[In May K.M. left Paris to spend the summer in Switzerland, her plan then being to return to Paris in October for a second course of the same treatment, which had been (or seemed to the outside observer to have been) successful. When she returned to Switzerland and was examined by her previous doctor, he was astonished at her progress.

But K.M. never believed that she would die of consumption, but always of heart-failure, and she thought that her heart had grown worse under the treatment. And, deeper than this, she had come to the conviction that her bodily health depended upon her spiritual con- page 236 dition. Her mind was henceforward preoccupied with discovering some way to ‘cure her soul’; and she eventually resolved, to my great regret, to abandon her treatment, and to live as though her grave physical illness were incidental, and even, so far as she could, as though it were non-existent.]

June. Randogne, Switzerland. I find the rapture at being alone hard to understand. Certainly when I am sitting out of sight under a tree I feel I could be content never to return. As to ‘fear’, it is gone. It is replaced by a kind of callousness. What will be, will be. But this is not a very useful statement, for I've never put it to the test.

Should I be as happy with anyone at my side? No. I'd begin to talk, and it's far nicer not to talk. Or, if it were J. he'd open a little blue book by Diderot, Jacques le Fataliste, and begin to read it, and that would make me wretched…. Why the devil want to read stuffy, snuffy Diderot when there is this other book before one's eyes? I do not want to be a book worm. If its book is taken away from it, the little blind head is raised; it wags, hovers, terribly uneasy, in a void—until it begins to burrow again.

Loneliness: ‘Oh Loneliness, of my sad heart be Queen!’ It isn't in the least that. My heart is not sad except when I am among people, and then I am far too distracted to think about Queens. (Oh, dear! Here is a walking tragedy—Madame with a whole tray of food! And I begged for a bastick, only a bastick!)

page 237

[The following description is of a family who lived in a small chalet within view of K.M.'s window at Randogne.]

I have watched this big heavy woman, moving so sullen, plodding in and out with her pails and brushes, coming to the door at midday and evening to look for her husband and child. She looks neither sad nor happy; she looks resigned and stupefied. Sometimes, when she stops and stares round her, she is like a cow that is being driven along a road, and sometimes when, leaning out the window, she watches her quick husband, so jauntily cutting up logs of wood, I think she hates him—and the sight of her suffocates him.

But to-day, it being the first fine day since the lodgers have come, they went off for a walk and left the nurse-girl in charge of the baby. A ‘cradle’ made of two straw baskets on trestles was brought out into the sun and the baby heaped up in it. Then the nurse girl disappeared.

Round the side of the house came my woman. She stopped. She looked round quickly. She leaned over the cradle and held out her finger to the baby. Then it seemed she was simply overcome with the loveliness and the wonder of this little thing. She tip-toed round the cradle, bent over, shook her head, shook her finger—pulled up a tiny sleeve, looked at a dimpled arm. Her little girl, in a white hat (in honour of the lodgers) danced up. I imagine my woman asked her how she would like a little brother. And the little girl was fascinated, as small children are by smaller.

“Kiss his hand,” said my woman. She watched her daughter, very serious, kiss the tiny hand; page 238 and she could hardly bear that anyone should touch the infant but herself. She snatched her daughter away….

When finally she dragged herself away, she was trembling. She went up the steps into the house, stood in the middle of the kitchen, and it seemed that the child within realized her love and moved. A faint, timid smile was on her lips. She believed and she did not believe.

Gyp, their dog, is the most servile creature imaginable. He is a fat brown and white spaniel with a fat round end of tail which wags for every-body at every moment. His passion is for the baby. If anyone throws him sticks he dashes off and brings them back to lay at the foot of the cradle. When his mistress carries the baby, he dances round them so madly, in such a frenzy of delight, that one doesn't believe in him. He feels himself one of the family—a family dog.

The master is a very stupid conceited fellow with a large thin nose, a tuft of hair, and long thin legs. He walks slowly, holding himself perfectly rigid. He keeps his hands in his pockets always. Yesterday he wore all day a pair of pale blue woollen slippers with tassels. And it was obvious he admired himself in these slippers tremendously. To-day he is walking about in his shirt-sleeves, wearing a sky-blue shirt. He wears black velvet trousers and a short coat. I am sure he thinks he is perfectly dressed for the country. Ah, if he only had a gun to carry on his shoulder!

When he came home, he walked stiff, rigid like a post, hands in pockets up to the front door page 239 and stood there. Did not knock, gave no sign. In less than a minute the door opened to him. His wife felt he was there.

(What a passion one feels for the sun here!)

The friend is a dashing young man in a grey suit, with a cap always worn very much on one side. His cap he does not like to take off. He is the kind of man who sits on the edge of tables or leans against the counter of bars with his thumbs in his waistcoat. He feels a dog. He is sure all the girls are wild about him, and it's true each time he looks at one, she is ready to titter. For all his carelessness, he's close with money. When he and his ‘friend’ go up to the village for stores, he lounges in the shop, smells things, suggests things, but turns his back and whistles when it comes to adding up the bill. He thinks the friend's wife is in love with him.

(When the dog is tied up, it cries pitifully, sobs. The sound, so unrestrained, pleases them.)

The wife is small, untidy, with large gold rings in her hair. She wears white canvas shoes and a jacket trimmed with artificial fur. She is the woman who is spending the day at the sea-side. She looks dissatisfied, unhappy. I am sure she is a terrible muddler.

(The dog is really very hysterical.)

They have a little servant maid of about sixteen, with a loose plait of dark streaky hair and silver-rimmed spectacles. She walks in a terribly meek but self-satisfied way, pushing out her stomach. She is meekness itself. How she bows her head and walks after her master! It is terrible to see. page 240 She wishes to be invisible, to pass unseen. “Don't look at me!” And she effaces herself. (This must be written very directly.) She it is who holds the baby. When the others have gone, she rather lords it over the baby, turns up his clothes and exclaims with quite an air.

The baby is at that age when it droops over a shoulder. It is still a boneless baby, blowing bubbles, in a little blue muslin frock. When it cries, it cries as though it were being squeezed. Its feet, in white boots, are like little cakes of dough.

(The dog's enthusiasm is enough to make you want to kick it. When they come out, cold, damp, depressed, there he is leaping, asking when the fun's going to begin. It is sickening.)

A queer bit of psychology: I had to disappear behind the bushes to-day in a hollow. That act made me feel nearer to normal health than I have felt for years. Nobody there; nobody wondered if I was all right, i.e. there was nothing to distinguish me, at that moment, from an ordinary human being.

Each little movement of this bird is made so ostentatiously—as if it were trying to show itself off as much as possible. Why?

But to continue with this alone-ness—to gather it up a little? Could I …? It seems to me to depend entirely on health in my case. If I were well and could spend the evenings sitting up writing till about eleven….

To look up through the trees to the far-away heavenly blue.

page 241

Now it's getting late afternoon and all sounds are softer, deeper. The sough of the wind in the branches is more thoughtful.

This—this is as great happiness as I shall ever know. It is greater happiness than I had ever thought possible. But why is it incompatible with —— only because of your weakness. There is nothing to prevent you being like this. In fact, don't you yet know that the more active and apart you make your own life, the more content the other is? What he finds intolerable is the lack of privacy. But so do you. It makes him feel as though he were living under a vacuum jar. So it does you. You hang on thinking to please him until he longs for you to be gone.

How badly, how stupidly you manage your life! Don't you realize that both of you have had enough contact to last for years, that the only way for each of you to be renewed and refreshed is for you to go apart. Not necessarily to tear apart, but to go apart as wisely as possible. You are the most stupid woman I have ever met. You never will see that it all rests with you. If you do not take the initiative, nothing will be done. The reason why you find it so hard to write is because you are learning nothing. I mean of the things that count—like the sight of this tree with its purple cones against the blue. How can I put it, that there is gum on the cones? “Gemmed?” No. “Beaded?” No. “They are like crystals.” Must I? I am afraid so….

[Towards the end of July K.M., finding the height of Randogne too great a strain on her heart, descended to Sierre.]

page 242

July. Sierre. This is a damning little note-book, quite in the old style. How I am committed!

To-day is Tuesday. Since leaving Montana I have written about a page. The rest of the time I seem to have slept! This, of course, started all the Old Fears: that I should never write again, that I was getting sleeping sickness and so on. But this morning I nearly kicked off, and this evening I feel perhaps a time of convalescence was absolutely necessary. The mind was choked with the wrack of all those dreadful tides. I wrote to K——to-day. It seems to bring things nearer.

It's only now I am beginning to see again and to recognise again the beauty of the world. Take the swallows to-day, their flutter-flutter, their velvet-forked tails, their transparent wings that are like the fins of fishes. The little dark head and breast golden in the light. Then the beauty of the garden, and the beauty of raked paths…. Then, the silence.

I wage eternally a war of small deceits. Tear this book up! Tear it up, now! But now I am pretending to be making notes on a book I have already read and despise….

What dreadful, awful rot!

I should like to write the canary story to-morrow. So many ideas come and go. If there is time I shall write them all. If this uninterrupted time continues. The story about this hotel would be wonderful if I could do it.1

page 243

If there is a book to be read, no matter how bad that book is, I read it. I will read it. Was it always so with me? I don't remember. Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.