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Journal of Katherine Mansfield


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[In February 1914, when the following entries were made, Katherine Mansfield and I were living in Paris, at 32 rue de Tournon. We found it impossible to earn enough money, and I had to return to London to look for work.]

“A calm, irresistible well-being—almost mystic in character, and yet doubtless connected with physical conditions” [Dorothy Wordsworth's Journal].

Writes Dorothy:

William (P.G.) is very well,
And gravely blithe—you know his way—
Talking with woodruff and harebell
And idling all the summer day
As he can well afford to do.
(P.G. for that again.) For who
Is more Divinely Entitled to?
He rises and breakfasts sharp at seven,
Then pastes some fern-fronds in his book,
Until his milk comes at eleven
With two fresh scones baked by the cook.
And then he paces in the sun
Until we dine at half past one.
“God and the cook are very good,”
Laughs William, relishing his food.
(Sometimes the tears rush to my eyes:
How kind he is, and oh, how wise!)
After, he sits and reads to me
Until at four we take our tea.
page 4 My dear, you hardly would believe
That William could so sigh and grieve
Over a simple, childish tale
How ‘Mary trod upon the Snail,’
Or ‘Little Ernie lost his Pail’.
And then perhaps a good half-mile
He walks to get an appetite
For supper, which we take at night
In the substantial country style.
By nine he's in bed and fast asleep,
Not snoring, dear, but very deep,
Oh, very deep asleep indeed….

And so on ad lib. What a Pa man!

I am going to read Goethe. Except for a few poems, I know nothing of his well. I shall read “Poetry and Truth” immediately.

“When all is done human life is at its greatest and best but a little froward child to be played with, and humoured a little, to keep it quiet until it falls asleep, and then the care is over” (Temple).

That's the sort of strain—not for what it says and means, but for the ‘lilt’ of it—that sets me writing.

The Child in my Arms.

“Will you touch me with the child in my arms?” is no mere pleasantry. Change the ‘will’ into ‘can’ and it's tief, sehr tief! I was thinking just now … that I hardly dare give rein to my thoughts of J. and my longing for J. And I thought: if I had a child, I would play with it now and lose myself in it and kiss it and make it laugh. And I'd use a child as my guard against my deepest feeling.

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When I felt: ‘No, I'll think no more of this; it's intolerable and unbearable;’ I'd dance the baby.

That's true, I think, of all, all women. And it accounts for the curious look of security that you see in young mothers: they are safe from any ultimate state of feeling because of the child in their arms. And it accounts also for the women who call men ‘children.’ Such women fill themselves with their men—gorge themselves really into a state of absolute heartlessness. Watch the sly, satisfied smile of women who say, “Men are nothing but babies!”

“They were neither of them quite enough in love to imagine that £350 a year would supply them with all the comforts of life” (Jane Austen's “Elinor and Edward”). My God! say I.

I went to J.'s room and looked through the window. It was evening, with little light, and what was there was very soft—the Freak Hour when people never seem to be quite in focus. I watched a man walking up and down the road— and he looked like a fly walking up a wall—and some men straining up with a barrow—all bottoms and feet. In the house opposite, at a ground-floor window, heavily barred, sat a little dark girl in a grey shawl reading a book. Her hair was parted down the middle: she had a small, oval face. She was perfectly charming, so set in the window with the shining white of the book. I felt a sort of Spanish infatuation…

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It is as though God opened his hand and let you dance on it a little, and then shut it up tight —so tight that you could not even cry…. The wind is terrible to-night. I am very tired—but J can't go to bed. I can't sleep or eat. Too tired.

“It was the touch of art that P. was suffering, the inexorable magic touch that still transforms in spite of us; that never hesitates to test and examine the materials it has to transmute, but never fails to transmute them.”

[By the end of February 1914 we had returned to London, with very little but the clothes we stood in. For a few weeks we lived in a furnished flat in Beaufort Mansions, Chelsea. From the back windows one had a view of a timber-yard and a cemetery.]

A Dream.

March 6. K. T. and her sister were walking down a road that was bounded on one side by a high hill and had on the other a deep ravine. So deep was the ravine that the cliffs at its base shone like points of teeth, sharp and tiny. Her sister was very frightened and clung to her arm, trembling and crying. So K.T. hid her terror and said, “It is all right. It is perfectly all right.” She had a little black fur muff slipped over one hand.

Suddenly there came driving towards them a chariot like the one in her Latin book, drawn by six stumpy horses and driven by a charioteer in a skull cap. They came at a furious gallop, but the charioteer was calm; a quiet evil smile dyed his lips.

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“Oh, K.T.! Oh, K.T.! I'm frightened,” sobbed her sister.

“It's quite all right. It's perfectly all right,” scolded K.T.

But as she watched the chariot a strange thing took place. Though the horses maintained their tearing gallop, they were not coming towards her and her sister, but were galloping backwards, while the charioteer smiled as though with deep satisfaction. K.T. put her little black muff over her sister's face. “They're gone. They're quite gone.” But now the deafening clatter came from behind them like the sound of an army of horsemen in clashing armour. Louder and louder and nearer and nearer came the noise. “Oh, K.T.! Oh, K.T.!” moaned her sister and K.T. shut her lips, only pressing her sister's arm. The noise was upon them—in a moment—now.

And nothing passed but a black horse as tall as a house with a dark serene rider in a wide hat gliding past them like a ship through dark water, and gliding importantly down the hill. The sight was so fearful that K.T. knew she dreamed. “I must wake up at once.” And she made every effort to shut her eyes and shake away the scene, but it would not go. She tried to call and she felt her lips open, but no sound would come. She shouted and screamed without a sound until at last she felt her bed and lifted her head into the burning dark of the bedroom.

The view from my window this morning is so tremendously exciting. A high wind is blowing page 8 and the glass is dashed with rain. In the timber yard beside the cemetery there are large pools of water, and smoke blows from …

March 19. Dreamed about New Zealand. Very delightful.

March 20. Dreamed about N.Z. again—one of the painful dreams when I'm there and hazy about my return ticket.

March 21. Travelled with two brown women. One had a basket of chickweed on her arm, the other a basket of daffodils. They both carried babies bound, somehow, to them with a torn shawl. Neat spare women with combed and braided hair. They slung talk at each other across the bus. Then one woman took a piece of bread from her sagging pocket and gave it to the baby, the other opened her bodice and put the child to her breast. They sat and rocked their knees and darted their quick eyes over the bus load. Busy and indifferent they looked.

March 22. Went to the Albert Hall with B.C. A bad, dull concert. But I thought all the while that I'd rather be with musical people than any others, and that they're mine, really. A violinist (miles away) bent his head and his hair grew like G.'s: that made me think so, I suppose. I ought to be able to write about them wonderfully.

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March 23. When I get by myself, I am always more or less actively miserable. If it were not for J. I should live quite alone. It's raining; I have a cold and my fire has gone out. Sparrows outside are cheeping like chickens. Oh heavens! what a different scene the sound recalls! The warm sun, and the tiny yellow balls, so dainty, treading down the grass blades, and Sheehan giving me the smallest chick wrapped in a flannel to carry to the kitchen fire. [Sheehan was the original of Pat in Prelude.]

March 24. Mother's birthday. I wrote at 2 o'clock and got up and sat on the box of the window thinking of her. I would love to see her again and the little frown between her brows, and to hear her voice. But I don't think I will. My memory of her is so complete that I don't think it will be disturbed. [It was not; Katherine Mansfield did not see her mother again.]

The P.'s dined with us last night. It was dull. They are worthy and pleasant, but Mrs. P. is a weight, and P. makes me feel old. He only likes me because of what I used to be like, and he thinks the ‘normal’ me abnormally quiet and a bit lifeless. I don't want to see them again. Thank God! there's a sprinkle of sun to-day.

The river to-night was low and the little walls and towers and chimneys on the opposite bank black against the night. I keep thinking of Paris and money. I am getting all my spring out of the sunsets.

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March 25. L.M. and I travelled miles to-day. We sat in a bus talking, and now and again when I looked up, I kept seeing the squares with their butterfly leaves just ready to fly. We met near the old haunts—Queen Anne Street—and walked in one of the little lanes and short cuts that we know so well—side by side, talking. “Let me tie your veil” and I stop; she ties it and we walk on again. In the Persian shop she leaned against a red and black silk curtain. She was very pale, and her black hat looked enormous, and she kept wanting to buy me “these things—feel how soft they are,” and smiling and speaking just above her breath for tiredness.

March 26. New Moon, 6h. 9m. p.m. (I didn't see it, though). L.M. and I took the tram to Clapham. She left at about 9 p.m. having dressed me. When I leave her hands I feel hung with wreaths. A silly, unreal evening at Miss R.'s. Pretty rooms and pretty people, pretty coffee, and cigarettes out of a silver tankard. A sort of sham Meredith atmosphere lurking. A.R. has a pert, nice face—that was all. I was wretched. I have nothing to say to ‘charming’ women. I feel like a cat among tigers. The ladies, left to themselves, talked ghosts and child-beds. I am wretchedly unhappy among everybody—and the silence …

March 27. I am writing for L.M. to come. She's very late. Everything is in a state of suspense —even birds and chimneys. Frightened in privat.

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At the last moment L.M. never said Good-bye at all but took the fiddle and ran. I walked away down some narrow streets; large drops of rain fell. I passed some packing warehouses, and the delicious smell of fresh wood and straw reminded me of Wellington. I could almost fancy a sawmill. In the evening the C.'s, and the little parrot swinging on a wire.

March 28. Put my clothes in order. The crocuses in Battersea reminded me of autumn in Bavaria. The ground is wet, and it looks as though winter were going—the grass long and green among the trampled flowers. Birds are far more savage-looking than the wildest beasts. Thinking of a forest of wild birds—or if the birds ‘turned’ even here. I want to get alone. The magnolia conspicua is in bud.

March 29. I am going to start a play to-day.

March 30. “I am afraid you are too psychological, Mr. Temple.” Then I went off and bought the bacon.

March 31. A splendid fine morning, but as I know I have to go out and change the cheque and pay the bills, I can do nothing and I feel wretched. Life is a hateful business, there's no denying it. When G. and J. were talking in the Park of physical well-being and of how they could still look forward to ‘parties,’ I nearly groaned. And I am sure J. could get a great deal of pleasure out page 12 of pleasant society. I couldn't. I've done with it, and can't combat it at all now. I had so much rather lean idly over the bridge and watch the boats and the free, unfamiliar people and feel the wind blow. No, I hate society. The idea of the play seems perfect tripe to-day.

April I. Spent another frightful day. Nothing helps or could help me except a person who could guess. Went for a walk and had some vague comfort given by some children and the noise of the water like rising waves.

April 2. I have begun to sleep badly again and I've decided to tear up everything that I've written and start again. I'm sure that is best. This misery persists, and I am so crushed under it. If I could write with my old fluency for one day, the spell would be broken. It's the continual effort—the slow building-up of my idea and then, before my eyes and out of my power, its slow dissolving.

April 3. Went for a walk by the river this evening and watched the boats. Two had red sails and one had white. The trees are budding almost before one's eyes in this warm weather—big white buds like birds on the chestnut trees, and round trees just sprinkled with green. The world is exceedingly lovely. My letter to L.M. was a great effort. She seemed somehow ‘out of the running.’ But then so does everybody. I feel a real horror of people closing over me. I could page 13 not bear them. I wish I lived on a barge, with J. for a husband and a little boy for a son.

April 4. Won a moral victory this morning, to my great relief. Went out to spend 2s. 11d. and left it unspent. But I have never known a more hideous day. Terribly lonely. Nothing that isn't satirical is really true for me to write just now. If I try to find things lovely, I turn pretty-pretty. And at the same time I am so frightened of writing mockery for satire that my pen hovers and won't settle. Dined with C.'s and D. Afterwards to Café Royal. The sheep were bleating and we set up a feeble counterpart. Saw a fight. The woman with her back to me—her arms crooked sharp at the elbows, her head thrust out, like a big bird.

April 5. No bird sits a tree more proudly than a pigeon. It looks as though placed there by the Lord. The sky was silky blue and white, and the sun shone through the little leaves. But the children, pinched and crooked, made me feel a bit out of love with God.

April 6. I went out with J. to find a shop; but instead we came to Swan Walk and passed and repassed and remarked the delightful houses, white with flowering pear-trees in the gardens and green railings and fine carved gates. I want a little house very much. My mind is full of embroidery, but there isn't any material to hold it together or make it strong. A silly state! L.M. seems to be simply fading away. I can page 14 barely remember her objectively: subjectively she is just the same.

April 7. The heavens opened for the sunset to-night. When I had thought the day folded and sealed, came a burst of heavenly bright petals…. I sat behind the window, pricked with rain, and looked until that hard thing in my breast melted and broke into the smallest fountain, murmuring as aforetime, and I drank the sky and the whisper. Now who is to decide between “Let it be” and “Force it”? J. believes in the whip: he says his steed has plenty of strength, but it is idle and shies at such a journey in prospect. I feel, if mine does not gallop and dance at free will, I am not riding at all, but just swinging from its tail. For example, to-day…. To-night he's all sparks.

May. To-day is Sunday. It is raining a little, and the birds are cheeping. There's a smell of food and a noise of chopping cabbage.

Oh, if only I could make a celebration and do a bit of writing. I long and long to write, and the words just won't come. It's a queer business. Yet, when I read people like Gorky, for instance, I realise how streets ahead of them I be….

July…. Then I put my hand over it and felt for a latch, and then through the bars. I suppose one isn't expected to vault over it, I thought,—or to ride a bicycle up this side and dive into a fountain of real water on the other….

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To Beauty. Why should you come to-night when it is so cold and grey and when the clouds are heavy and the bees troubled in their swinging?

August 17. I simply cannot believe that there was a time when I cared about Turgeniev. Such a poseur! Such a hypocrite! It's true he was wonderfully talented, but I keep thinking what a good (cinema play?) On the Eve would make.

August 30. We go to Cornwall to-morrow, I suppose, I've re-read my diary. Tell me, Is there a God? I'm old to-night. Ah, I wish I had someone to love me, comfort me and stop me thinking.

[After two changes of rooms in Chelsea, and a fortnight in a furnished cottage at Merryn in Cornwall, we took in September 1914 an ugly cottage at The Lee, near Missenden in Buckinghamshire, where the following entries were written.]

November 3. It's full moon with a vengeance to-night. Out of the front door a field of big turnips, and beyond, a spiky wood with red bands of light behind it. Out of the back door an old tree with just a leaf or two remaining and a moon perched in the branches. I feel very deeply happy and free. Colette Willy is in my thoughts to-night. I feel in my own self awake and stretching, stretching so that I am on tip-toe, full of happy joy. Can it be that one can renew oneself?

Dear, dear Samuel Butler! Just you wait: I'll do you proud. To-morrow at about 10.30, I go into action.

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November 15. It's very quiet. I've re-read L'Entrave. I suppose Colette is the only woman in France who does just this. I don't care a fig at present for anyone I know except her. But the book to be written is still unwritten. I can't sit down and fire away like J.

November 16. A letter from F. I had not expected it, and yet, when it came, it seemed quite inevitable—the writing, the way the letters were made, his confidence, and his warm sensational life. I wish he were my friend; he's very near to me. His personality comes right through his letters to J. and I want to laugh and run into the road.

December 28. The year is nearly over. Snow has fallen, and everything is white. It is very cold. I have changed the position of my desk into a corner. Perhaps I shall be able to write far more easily here. Yes, this is a good place for the desk, because I cannot see out of the stupid window. I am quite private. The lamp stands on one corner and in the corner. Its rays fall on the yellow and green Indian curtain and on the strip of red embroidery. The forlorn wind scarcely breathes. I love to close my eyes a moment and think of the land outside, white under the mingled snow and moonlight—the heaps of stones by the roadside whit—snow in the farrows. Mon Dieu! How quiet and how patient!