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Journal of Katherine Mansfield

The New Baby

The New Baby

It is late night, very dark, very still. Not a star to be seen. And now it has come on to rain. What happiness it is to listen to rain at night; joyful relief, ease; a lapping-round and hushing and brooding tenderness, all are mingled together in the sound of the fast-falling rain. God, looking down upon the rainy earth, sees how faint are these lights shining in little windows,—how easily put out….

Suddenly, quick hard steps mount the stone staircase. Someone is hurrying. There is a knock at my door, and at the same moment a red page 193 beaming face is thrust in, as Ernestine announces, “He is born.”


“He is born!”

Oh, Ernestine, don't turn away. Don't be afraid. Let me weep too.

You ought to keep this, my girl, just as a warning to show what an arch-wallower you can be.

October 16. Another radiant day. J. is typing my last story, The Garden Party, which I finished on my birthday [October 14]. It took me nearly a month to ‘recover’ from At the Bay. I made at least three false starts. But I could not get away from the sound of the sea, and Beryl fanning her hair at the window. These things would not die down. But now I'm not at all sure about that story. It seems to me it's a little ‘wispy’—not what it might have been. The G.P. is better. But that is not good enough, either….

The last few days what one notices more than anything is the blue. Blue sky, blue mountains, all is a heavenly blueness! And clouds of all kinds—wings, soft white clouds, almost hard little golden islands, great mock-mountains. The gold deepens on the slopes. In fact, in sober fact, it is perfection.

But the late evening is the time—of times. Then with that unearthly beauty before one it is not hard to realise how far one has to go. To write something that will be worthy of that rising moon, that pale light. To be ‘simple’ enough, as one would be simple before God….

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October 27. Stories for my new book.

N.Z. Honesty: The Doctor, Arnold Cullen, and his wife Lydia, and Archie the friend.

L. Second Violin: Alexander and his friend in the train. Spring—spouting rain. Wet lilac.

N.Z. Six Years After: A wife and husband on board a steamer. The cold buttons. They see someone who reminds them.

L. Life like Logs of Driftwood: This wants to be a long, very well-written story. The men are important, especially the lesser man. It wants a good deal of working … newspaper office.

N.Z. A Weak Heart: Ronnie on his bike in the evening, with his hands in his pockets, doing marvels, by that dark tree at the corner of May Street. Edie and Ronnie.

L. Widowed: Geraldine and Jimmie: a house overlooking Sloane Street and Square. Wearing those buds at her heart. “Married or not married….” From Autumn to Spring.

N.Z. Our Maude: Husband and wife play duets and a one a two a three a one a two three one! His white waistcoats. Wifeling and Mahub! What a girl you are!

N.Z. At Karori: The little lamp. I seen it. And then they were silent. (Finito: October 30, 1921.)

I wish that my silence were only a two-minute one!

October. I wonder why it should be so very difficult to be humble. I do not think I am a good writer; I realize my faults better than anyone page 195 else could realize them. I know exactly where I fail. And yet, when I have finished a story and before I have begun another, I catch myself preening my feathers. It is disheartening. There seems to be some bad old pride in my heart; a root of it that puts out a thick shoot on the slightest provocation…. This interferes very much with work. One can't be calm, clear, good as one must be, while it goes on. I look at the mountains, I try to pray and I think of something clever. It's a kind of excitement within, which shouldn't be there. Calm yourself. Clear yourself. And anything that I write in this mood will be no good; it will be full of sediment. If I were well, I would go off by myself somewhere and sit under a tree. One must learn, one must practise, to forget oneself. I can't tell the truth about Aunt Anne unless I am free to look into her life without self-consciousness. Oh God! I am divided still. I am bad. I fail in my personal life. I lapse into impatience, temper, vanity, and so I fail as thy priest. Perhaps poetry will help.

I have just thoroughly cleaned and attended to my fountain pen. If after this it leaks, then it is no gentleman!

November 13. It is time I started a new journal. Come, my unseen, my unknown, let us talk together. Yes, for the last two weeks I have written scarcely anything. I have been idle; I have failed. Why? Many reasons. There has been a kind of confusion in my consciousness. It has seemed as though there was no time to write.

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The mornings, if they are sunny, are taken up with sun-treatment; the post eats away the afternoon. And at night I am tired.

‘But it all goes deeper.’ Yes, you are right. I haven't been able to yield to the kind of contemplation that is necessary. I have not felt pure in heart, not humble, not good. There's been a stirring-up of sediment. I look at the mountains and I see nothing but mountains. Be frank! I read rubbish. I give way about writing letters. I mean I refuse to meet my obligations, and this of course weakens me in every way. Then I have broken my promise to review the books for The Nation. Another bad spot. Out of hand? Yes, that describes it—dissipated, vague, not positive, and above all, above everything, not working as I should be working—wasting time.

Wasting time. The old cry—the first and last cry—Why do ye tarry? Ah, why indeed? My deepest desire is to be a writer, to have “a body of work” done. And there the work is, there the stories wait for me, grow tired, wilt, fade, because I will not come. And I hear and I acknowledge them, and still I go on sitting at the window, playing with the ball of wool. What is to be done?

I must make another effort—at once. I must begin all over again. I must try and write simply, fully, freely, from my heart. Quietly, caring nothing for success or failure, but just going on.

I must keep this book so that I have a record of what I do each week. (Here a word. As I re-read At the Bay in proof, it seemed to me flat, dull, and not a success at all. I was very much page 197 ashamed of it. I am.) But now to resolve! And especially to keep in touch with Life—with the sky and this moon, these stars, these cold, candid peaks.

November 16. To go to Sierre, if it goes on like this … or to—or to—

November 21. Since then [i.e. since writing the entry of October 16, 1921] I have only written The Doll's House. A bad spell has been on me. I have begun two stories,1 but then I told them and they felt betrayed. It is absolutely fatal to give way to this temptation…. To-day I began to write, seriously, The Weak Heart,—a story which fascinates me deeply. What I feel it needs so peculiarly is a very subtle variation of ‘tense’ from the present to the past and back again—and softness, lightness, and the feeling that all is in bud, with a play of humour over the character of Ronnie. And the feeling of the Thorndon Baths, the wet, moist, oozy … no, I know how it must be done.

May I be found worthy to do it! Lord, make me crystal clear for thy light to shine through!

November 24. These last days I have been awfully rebellious. Longing for something. I feel uprooted. I want things that J. can so easily do without, that aren't natural to him. I long for them. But then, stronger than all these desires, is the other, which is to make good before I do page 198 anything else. The sooner the books are written, the sooner I shall be well, the sooner my wishes will be in sight of fulfilment. That is sober truth, of course. As a pure matter of fact I consider this enforced confinement here as God-given. But, on the other hand, I must make the most of it quickly. It is not unlimited any more than anything else is. Oh, why—oh, why isn't anything unlimited? Why am I troubled every single day of my life by the nearness of death and its inevitability? I am really diseased on that point. And I can't speak of it. If I tell J. it makes him unhappy. If I don't tell him, it leaves me to fight it. I am tired of the battle. No one knows how tired.

To-night, when the evening-star shone through the side-window and the mountains were so lovely, I sat there thinking of death. Of all there was to do—of Life, which is so lovely—and of the fact that my body is a prison. But this state of mind is evil. It is only by acknowledging that I, being what I am, had to suffer this in order to do the work I am here to perform. It is only by acknowledging it, by being thankful that work was not taken away from me, that I shall recover. I am weak where I must be strong.

And to-day—Saturday—less than ever. But no matter. I have progressed … a little. I have realised what it is to be done—the strange barrier to be crossed from thinking it to writing it…. Daphne.

[On the next page begins the unfinished MS. of Daphne, included in “The Doves' Nest.”]

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1 Fragments of these two stories, Widowed and Second Violin, and of Weak Heart, are in the “Doves' Nest.”