I have been reading Katherine Mansfield's Journal (the lovely Persephone Books edition). I had only wanted to read a little bit every now and then as it is the perfect sort of book to pick up and put down and not feel you are neglecting it (it is in diary format). I am finding, however, that I want to pick it up every day and I want to keep reading it. There is something very poignant about her journal. Perhaps it is because she died at such a young age--only 34--yet she accomplished so much. I am reading entries for 1916 at the moment. She died in 1922, so there were only six short years left in her life.
In July of 1915 Katherine's brother came to stay with her before he was sent to the front. He was killed almost immediately.
"November, Brandol, France. Brother. I think I have known for a long time that life was over for me, but I have never realized it or acknowledged it until my brother died. Yes, though he is lying in the middle of a little wood in France and I am still walking upright and feeling the sun and the wind from the sea, I am just as much dead as he is. The present and the future mean nothing to me. I am no longer 'curious' about people; I do not wish to go anywhere; and the only possible value that anything can have for me is that it should put me in mind of something that happened or was when he was alive."
You can tell she was a writer. Many of her journal entries were so descriptive, I feel like I am reading parts of her short stories. Not being a writer myself, or a journal keeper, perhaps these were experiments or practice--not just the usual hum drum dealings of life (though in the right hands even hum drum can be exciting!).
"This afternoon I did not go for a walk. There is a long stone embankment that goes out into the sea. Huge stones on either side and a little rough goat path in the in the centre. When I came to the end the sun was going down. So, feeling extremely solitary and romantic, I sat me down on a stone and watched the red sun, which looked horribly like a morsel of tinned apricot, sink into a sea like a huge junket. I began, feebly but certainly perceptibly, to harp: 'Alone between sea and sky etc.' But suddenly I saw a minute speck on the bar coming towards me. It grew, it turned into a young officer in dark blue, slim, with an olive skin, fine eyebrows, long black eyes, a fine silky moustache.
'You are alone, Madame?'
'You are living at the hotel, Madame?'
'At the hotel, Monsieur.'
'Ah, I have noticed you walking alone several times, Madame.'
'It is possible, Monsieur.'
He blushed and put his hand to his cap.
'I am very indiscreet, Madame.'
'Very indiscreet, Monsieur.'"
Shortly after she wrote this in her journal, Katherine Mansfield wrote the first version of Prelude. So my next logical step is to begin reading Prelude. I believe Mansfield wrote something like 100 short stories. I'm not sure how many are included in The Collected Stories, though I think it is nearly all of them, starting with Prelude. I hadn't really intended to start all this now, but reading about her is so compelling that I want to read her work as well as about her life. I am reading the introduction to the Collected Stories at the moment. I have more to share about what I am reading, but I will save that for a second post as I am getting a bit long here. I do plan on reading Caire Tomalin's biography as well this summer sometime. It would be nice to read the stories somewhat in conjunction with reading about Mansfield herself.
By the way, isn't that lovely about the sun setting and looking like a morsel of tinned apricot?