Katherine Mansfield •
The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield •
Katherine Mansfield is a writer like no other. It’s said that the printer who was preparing one of her early stories for publication exclaimed, “But these kids are real!” It’s hard to imagine a compliment that could have pleased the author more.
That she valued the praise of a common man above the approval of literary critics is entirely in character for Mansfield. Her art is one of understatement and subtle brilliance; there are no whispers here of “See what a great writer I am,” only exquisitely evocative prose. And it’s not just the children who live and breathe on the page.
Kezia and Lottie, the little girls in “Prelude” who elicited the typesetter’s spontaneous tribute, reappear in “At the Bay,” a seascape of shimmering pastels.
“Grandma,” she said in a startled voice.
“What, my pet!”
“You’re not to die.” Kezia was very decided.
“Ah, Kezia”—her grandma looked up and smiled and shook her head—”don’t let’s talk about it.”
“But you’re not to. You couldn’t leave me. You couldn’t not be there.” This was awful. “Promise me you won’t ever do it, grandmother,” pleaded Kezia.
The old woman went on knitting.
“Promise me! Say never!”
But still her grandma was silent . . .
And then she began, very softly and lightly, to tickle her grandma.
“Kezia!” The old woman dropped her knitting. She swung back in the rocker. She began to tickle Kezia. “Say never, say never, say never,” gurgled Kezia, while they lay there laughing in each other’s arms. “Come, that’s enough, my squirrel! That’s enough, my wild pony!” said old Mrs. Fairfield, setting her cap straight. “Pick up my knitting.”
Both of them had forgotten what the “never” was about.
No wonder Virginia Woolf was jealous of Mansfield’s gifts.