Cousin to Australian author Elizabeth von Arnim (The Enchanted April), friend of D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, spiritual heir to Chekhov's humanism, New Zealander Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp became a peerless master of the short story and died at thirty-two. She burned through sexual passion with women and men but not really with either of her husbands. Blatantly exploiting the affection of a singing teacher eleven years her senior, she agreed to marry George Bowden only because she was already pregnant by another man, refused to sleep with him on their wedding night and left him for good within hours. Her starchy mother arrived in England from New Zealand, blamed the breakup on her longtime lesbian lover Ida Baker, dispatched her daughter to a spa in Bavaria, and cut her out of her will. Mansfield miscarried. But it was there she discovered Chekhov. Upon her return to London in 1910 she started writing more seriously. In 1911 she began a relationship with editor John Murry, left him, got back together, left him again in 1913, got back together again, left him again in 1917, and in 1918 married him. Within two weeks she departed to travel for her health. First Paris, then she and Ida Baker lived in San Remo, Italy. As her tuberculosis worsened, she weakened, and yet this final period gave rise to her greatest works. Thirty-five of her best, including "The Garden-Party," "The Doll's House," and "At the Bay," are found in her Selected Stories from Norton. To understand her life, get her notebooks or brilliant biographer Claire Tomalin's Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life or Jeffrey Meyers' Katherine Mansfield: A Darker View. In a wise appreciation for the Telegraph, lesbian author Ali Smith mentions Mansfield's immediate impact on her contemporaries thus:
"She dunted Virginia Woolf, with a good sharp elbow, into the kind of experimental writing for which Woolf is revered. She unknowingly presented her friend DH Lawrence with one of the more sapphic narrative episodes of The Rainbow by telling him stories of her youth, and was later, again inadvertently, his model for the character of Gudrun in Women in Love."
Smith also cites Mansfield's influence on T.S. Eliot, Simone de Beauvoir, Scott Fitzgerland, Willa Cather, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Elizabeth Bowen, Brigid Brophy, Christopher Isherwood, Carson McCullers, Philip Larkin, and Angela Carter.