There are two fundamental problems with this collection, both acknowledged by Todd Martin in his introduction. First, the Bloomsbury Group was not a movement; it did not embrace a consciously formulated set of principles or develop a specific philosophy; it was at best a loose social grouping, and second, Katherine Mansfield’s relationship with the inhabitants of Bloomsbury was at best fitful and tangential. This means that a collection which seeks to link the two faces difficulties in terms of methodology and coherence. And it is difficult at times to assess this volume’s intended audience. Gerri Kimber assumes that we will need to be told of Mansfield’s ‘untimely death in Fontainebleau from tuberculosis in January 1923, aged just 34’ (p. 53), while Ruchi Mundeja writes of Bloomsbury as ‘the locus of a transgressive challenge to, vis-à-vis its cerebral and sexual heterodoxy, the “moralising solemnity” of the domestic’ (p. 183). Many of these essays are overtly biographical, mining letters and journals for references to Mansfield’s encounters with this or that person, accounts of meetings, and the rehearsal of third-party gossip. The reliance on biography is particularly evident in the first section, ‘Katherine Mansfield and Bloomsbury Literary Friendships’. Gerri Kimber discusses Mansfield and Huxley; Janet Wilson Mansfield and T. S. Eliot; Jenny McDonnell Mansfield and Walter de la Mare. Erika Baldt and Ann Herndon Marshall discuss Mansfield and the minor figures of Millar Dunning and W. L. George. This, it must be said, is not the usual roll call of Bloomsbury members, a fact which contributes to the diffuseness of the volume as a whole. Where the collection is on more solid ground, both in terms of the significance to Mansfield and in terms of centrality of Bloomsbury, is in the treatments of the relationship of Mansfield and Virginia Woolf—seen in Christine Darrohn’s discussion of ‘modernist hospitality’ and Sydney Janet Kaplan’s examination of Woolf and Mansfield as reviewers. This latter is a focus also dealt with in the second section’s essay by Chris Mourant under the rubric of ‘modernist emotions’. However, this is a rather reductive way of presenting Bloomsbury—which was more various than simply an emphasis on Woolf might suggest. The second section, ‘Katherine Mansfield and Literary Bloomsbury’, is chiefly concerned with Mansfield’s generally negative and satiric representation of Bloomsbury in her fiction. The discussions of Ruchi Mundeja on the aestheticised domestic, Alex Moffett on the ‘performance of knowledge’ (p. 202), and Richard Cappuccio’s consideration of Mansfield, Woolf, and Ottoline Morrell concentrate on the stories ‘Bliss’, ‘Marriage à la Mode’, and ‘A Cup of Tea’, specifically linking them to Bloomsbury practices and identities. Is the repeated use of this small group of stories indicative of the limits of Mansfield’s debt to Bloomsbury? And how specific are their Bloomsbury referents anyway? Mr and Mrs Norman Knight, the dinner party guests in ‘Bliss’, run for the Hampstead train, not very Bloomsbury either geographically or culturally. Is Mansfield satirizing literary society in general rather than specifically Bloomsbury? How different is the literary satire—that is, satire of characters with literary pretensions—in ‘Je ne parle pas français’, whose characters are certainly not Blooms Berries? Only Mary Ann Gillies deals with the central and significant point of why Mansfield’s relationship with Bloomsbury was so uncomfortable. She reads her outsider status and in particular her colonial identity against the artistic theories of Bloomsbury in general and Roger Fry in particular, highlighting ‘fundamentally different visions of art’ (p. 156). One is struck here and elsewhere with the many references from within Bloomsbury, ostensibly bohemian and transgressive, to Mansfield’s vulgarity and promiscuity. (The story of Mansfield dressing as a French soldier and cavorting in the trenches is as enjoyable, as it is unsupported by any evidence whatsoever.) What did this mean? How much was it part of her deliberate performance of ‘the little savage from New Zealand’? How much was it a tease to discompose the chilly and easily shocked Woolf? Mansfield’s background was not vulgar or déclassé; her upper middle-class colonial upbringing meant she was better educated than any of the Bloomsbury women and many of the men. But there were, nevertheless, networks of belonging, tribal, caste-based, familial networks, that she—and D. H. Lawrence—could not enter, and, usually but not invariably, did not want to enter. The career advantages that this kind of belonging could confer were obvious—but were there perceived advantages to ‘not’ belonging? ‘She can write, damn her’ wrote Bloomsbury scion Rupert Brooke on the publication of her story ‘Millie’, a stunning and deeply unsettling refraction of not just the colonial landscape but a colonial literary tradition. There are a number of unanswered questions here that Katherine Mansfield and the Bloomsbury Group fails to answer: how do writers enter intellectual and social networks; how are those networks formed and maintained; who are the gatekeepers and who is able to regulate or subvert the network’s overarching ethos? What constitutes a relationship with or membership of a literary network and how can such connections be best traced? Not, perhaps, in gossipy, self-promoting letters, journal entries, or second-hand judgements. In her chapter on Walter de la Mare, Jenny McDonnell comes closest to an answer, teasing out the publishing arrangements, referrals, commissioning links, and avenues of patronage which Mansfield and de la Mare enjoyed and held in common—although it is difficult to configure de la Mare as a central member of the Bloomsbury Group. McDonnell deals with the afterlife of Mansfield and de la Mare’s relationship as much as its nature during Mansfield’s life, and with de la Mare’s dealings with Murry as much as with Mansfield. It is a provoking discussion. What does Mansfield’s admiration of—and desire for admiration from—de la Mare say about the work she might have written had she lived on after 1923? One thinks of her disturbed reaction to James Joyce’s work, that there was something in it but it was something that she did not want to deal with. How modernist would a 40-year-old Mansfield have been, given her admiration for de la Mare’s fairy stories and children’s verse? © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press 2018; all rights reserved
The Review of English Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 17, 2018
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