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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

[At the end of August 1922 K.M. returned to London.]

[At the end of August 1922 K.M. returned to London.]

My first conversation with O. took place on August 30, 1922.

On that occasion I began by telling him how dissatisfied I was with the idea that Life must be a lesser thing than we were capable of imagining it to be. I had the feeling that the same thing happened to nearly everybody whom I knew and whom I did not know. No sooner was their youth, with the little force and impetus characteristic of youth, done, than they stopped growing. At the very moment that one felt that now was the time to gather oneself together, to use one's whole strength, to take control, to be an adult, in fact, they seemed content to swop the darling wish of their hearts for innumerable little wishes. Or the image that suggested itself to me was that of a river flowing away in countless little trickles over a dark swamp.

They deceived themselves, of course. They called this trickling away—greater tolerance—wider interests—a sense of proportion—so that work did not rule out the possibility of ‘life’. Or they called it an escape from all this mind-probing and self-consciousness—a simpler and therefore a better way of life. But sooner or page 244 later, in literature at any rate, there sounded an undertone of deep regret. There was an uneasiness, a sense of frustration. One heard, one thought one heard, the cry that began to echo in one's own being: “I have missed it. I have givezn up. This is not what I want. If this is all, then Life is not worth living.”

But I know it is not all. How does one know that? Let me take the case of K.M. She has led, ever since she can remember, a very typically false life. Yet, through it all, there have been moments, instants, gleams, when she has felt the possibility of something quite other.

Love-birds at 47b: Male and female. Male, green underbody, wings mole, tipped with yellow, broad at base, gradually growing smaller until the head feathers, as close as can be. Yellow faces: a touch of pale-blue on the chops and on the top of the beak. On the male exquisite black spots, points of jet under the beak. Tail of male bird blue.

Female yellow with overbody of pale green in delicate pencil lines. The bird is yellow, but a green-yellow. Male bird burrows in its back, finds….

September 30. “Do you know what individuality is?”


“Consciousness of will. To be conscious that you have a will and can act.”

Yes, it is. It's a glorious saying.

October 3. Arrived Paris. Took rooms in Select Hotel, Place de la Sorbonne, for ten francs a day page 245 per person. What feeling? Very little. The room is like the room where one could work—or so it feels. I have been a perfect torment to L.M. who is pale with dark eyes. I suspect my reactions so much that I hardly dare say what I think of the room and so on. Do I know? Not really. Not more than she.

I have thought of J. to-day. We are no longer together. Am I in the right way, though? No, not yet. Only looking on—telling others. I am not in body and soul. I feel a bit of a sham…. And so I am. One of the K.M.'s is so sorry. But of course she is. She has to die. Don't feed her.

October. Important. When we can begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves. What Shestov calls ‘a touch of easy familiarity and derision’ has its value.

What will happen to Anatole France and his charming smile? Doesn't it disguise a lack of feeling, like M.'s weariness?

Life should be like a steady, visible light.

What remains of all those years together? It is difficult to say. If they were so important, how could they have come to nothing. Who gave up and why?

Haven't I been saying, all along, that the fault lies in trying to cure the body and paying no heed whatever to the sick psyche? G. claims to do just what I have always dreamed might be done.

The sound of a street pipe, hundreds and hundreds of years old.

page 246

October. The Luxembourg Gardens. A very small railway train came along, with a wooden whistle. First it stopped, blew the whistle, and then moved slowly forward with a wonderfully expressive motion of the right arm. People mattered not at all. It went through them, past them; skirted them. Then down it fell, full length. But two gentlemen picked it up, patted its behind, and in a minute it whistled (rather longer than usual) and started off again….

A little bird-like mother with a baby in her arm, and tugging at one hand a minute little girl in a coat made out of a pleated skirt, and a pink bow—it looked like pink flannel—on her clubbed hair. A very rich child in a white beaver hat passed and fell quite in love with the pink flannel bow. When its nurse was not looking it hung back and walked beside its little poor sister, looking at her wonderingly and very carefully keeping step.

A little person in a pink hat passed, very carefully dragging a minute doll's pram. It was so minute she had to drag it on a thread of cotton. Naturally, once she stopped looking and her hand gave a jerk, down fell the pram. For about two minutes she dragged it along on its side. Then she discovered the accident, rushed back, set it up, and looked round very angrily in all directions: certain some enemy had knocked it over on purpose. Her little dark direct gaze was quite frightening. Did she see some one?

And then suddenly the wind lifts, and all the leaves, leaves fly forward so gladly, so eagerly, as if they were thankful it is not their turn yet to …

page 247

October 15. Nietzsche's Birthday. Sat in the Luxembourg Gardens. Cold, wretchedly unhappy. Horrid people at lunch, everything horrid, from anfang bis zum ende.

October 17. Laubätter. The Four Fountains. The Red Tobacco Plant. English dog. The funeral procession. Actions and Reactions. The silky husks, like the inside of the paw of a cat. ‘Darling.’

Fire is sunlight and returns to the sun again in an unending cycle…. G. looks exactly like a desert chief. I kept thinking of Doughty's “Arabia”…

To be wildly enthusiastic, or deadly serious—both are wrong. Both pass. One must keep ever present a sense of humour. It depends entirely on yourself how much you see or hear or understand. But the sense of humour I have found of use in every single occasion of my life. Now perhaps you understand what the word ‘indifferent’ means. It is to learn not to mind, and not to show your mind.

October 18. In the autumn garden leaves falling. Little footfalls, like gentle whispering. They fly, spin, twirl, shake.

[The following entry was torn out of her journal to be sent to me. But K.M. changed her mind. I found it among her papers with this superscription, “These pages from my journal. Don't let them distress you. The story has a happy ending, really and truly.”]

page 248

October 10. I have been thinking this morning until it seems I may get things straightened out if I try to write … where I am.

Ever since I came to Paris I have been as ill as ever. In fact, yesterday I thought I was dying. It is not imagination. My heart is so exhausted and so tied up that I can only walk to the taxi and back. I get up at midi and go to bed at 5.30 I try to ‘work’ by fits and starts, but the time has gone by. I cannot work. Ever since April I have done practically nothing. But why? Because, although M.'s treatment improved my blood and made me look well and did have a good effect on my lungs, it made my heart not a snap better, and I only won that improvement by living the life of a corpse in the Victoria Palace Hotel.

My spirit is nearly dead. My spring of life is so starved that it's just not dry. Nearly all my improved health is pretence—acting. What does it amount to? Can I walk? Only creep. Can I do anything with my hands or body? Nothing at all. I am an absolutely helpless invalid. What is my life? It is the existence of a parasite. And five years have passed now, and I am in straighter bonds than ever.

Ah, I feel a little calmer already to be writing. Thank God for writing! I am so terrified of what I am going to do. All the voices out of the ‘Past’ say “Don't do it”. J. says “M. is a scientist. He does his part. It's up to you to do yours.” But that is no good at all. I can no more cure my psyche than my body. Less it seems to me. page 249 Isn't J. himself, perfectly fresh and well, utterly depressed by boils on his neck? Think of five years' imprisonment. Someone has got to help me to get out. If that is a confession of weakness—it is. But it's only lack of imagination that calls it so. And who is going to help me? Remember Switzerland: “I am helpless.” Of course, he is. One prisoner cannot help another. Do I believe in medicine alone? No, never. In science alone? No, never. It seems to me childish and ridiculous to suppose one can be cured like a cow if one is not a cow. And here, all these years, I have been looking for someone who agreed with me. I have heard of G. who seems not only to agree but to know infinitely more about it. Why hesitate?

Fear. Fear of what? Doesn't it come down to fear of losing J.? I believe it does. But, good Heavens! Face things. What have you of him now? What is your relationship? He talks to you—sometimes—and then goes off. He thinks of you tenderly. He dreams of a life with you some day when the miracle has happened. You are important to him as a dream. Not as a living reality. For you are not one. What do you share? Almost nothing. Yet there is a deep, sweet, tender flooding of feeling in my heart which is love for him and longing for him. But what is the good of it as things stand? Life together, with me ill, is simply torture with happy moments. But it's not life…. You do know that J. and you are only a kind of dream of what might be. And that might-be never, never can be true unless you are page 250 well. And you won't get well by ‘imagining’ or ‘waiting’ or trying to bring off that miracle yourself.

Therefore if the Grand Lama of Thibet promised to help you—how can you hesitate? Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth.

True, Tchehov didn't. Yes, but Tchehov died. And let us be honest. How much do we know of Tchehov from his letters? Was that all? Of course not. Don't you suppose he had a whole longing life of which there is hardly a word? Then read the final letters. He has given up hope. If you de-sentimentalize those final letters they are terrible. There is no more Tchehov. Illness has swallowed him.

But perhaps to people who are not ill, all this is nonsense. They have never travelled this road. How can they see where I am? All the more reason to go boldly forward alone. Life is not simple. In spite of all we say about the mystery of Life, when we get down to it we want to treat it as though it were a child's tale….

Now, Katherine, what do you mean by health? And what do you want it for?

Answer: By health I mean the power to live a full, adult, living, breathing life in close contact with what I love—the earth and the wonders thereof-the sea—the sun. All that we mean when we speak of the external world. I want to enter into it, to be part of it, to live in it, to learn from it, to lose all that is superficial and acquired page 251 in me and to become a conscious direct human being. I want, by understanding myself, to understand others. I want to be all that I am capable of becoming so that I may be (and here I have stopped and waited and waited and it's no good—there's only one phrase that will do) a child of the sun. About helping others, about carrying a light and so on, it seems false to say a single word. Let it be at that. A child of the sun.

Then I want to work. At what? I want so to live that I work with my hands and my feeling and my brain. I want a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music. And out of this, the expression of this, I want to be writing. (Though I may write about cabmen. That's no matter.)

But warm, eager, living life—to be rooted in life—to learn, to desire to know, to feel, to think, to act. That is what I want. And nothing less. That is what I must try for.

I wrote this for myself. I shall now risk sending it to J. He may do with it what he likes. He must see how much I love him.

And when I say ‘I fear’—don't let it disturb you, dearest heart. We all fear when we are in waiting-rooms. Yet we must pass beyond them, and if the other can keep calm, it is all the help we can give each other….

And this all sounds very strenuous and serious. But now that I have wrestled with it, it's no longer so. I feel happy—deep down. All is well.

page 252

[With those words Katherine Mansfield's Journal comes to a fitting close. Thenceforward the conviction that “All was well” never left her. She entered a kind of spiritual brotherhood at Fontainebleau. The object of this brotherhood, at least as she understood it, was to help its members to achieve a spiritual regeneration.

After some three months, at the beginning of 1923, she invited me to stay with her for a week. I arrived early in the afternoon of January 9. I have never seen, nor shall I ever see, any one so beautiful as she was on that day; it was as though the exquisite perfection which was always hers had taken possession of her completely. To use her own words, the last grain of ‘sediment’, the last ‘traces of earthly degradation’, were departed for ever. But she had lost her life to save it.

As she came up the stairs to her room at 10 p.m. she was seized by a fit of coughing which culminated in a violent haemorrhage. At 10.30 she was dead.]