The Magic of Katherine Mansfield


Happy birthday to Katherine Mansfield, born on this day in 1888.

It seems fitting to honor Mansfield today, after last week’s Snail post extolling the virtues of reading short stories. Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand native who eventually made her home in London, published some 88 stories before dying of tuberculosis at the young age of 34.

It’s easy to access many of Mansfield’s stories online, on the website of the Katherine Mansfield Society. There you’ll find many favorites, including “Marriage à La Mode,” “Miss Brill,” “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” and “The Garden-Party.”

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This cool sculpture of Katherine Mansfield can be found in Wellington, NZ. Her stainless steel body is laser-cut with the author’s own words, which are illuminated from within at night.

It takes only a moment to read one of Mansfield’s stories and enter her world, which generally focuses on small events in the lives of individuals and families. In her hands, those seemingly minor happenings take on great significance against the backdrop of World War I, illness, marriage, and more.

Willa Cather was a fan of her work, saying that Mansfield’s stories create “magic” out of “personal relationships which exist in an everyday ‘happy family’ who are merely going on living their daily lives, with no crises or shocks or bewildering complications to try them.” Yet, those everyday lives contain “innumerable shades of sweetness and anguish,” all of which Mansfield beautifully captures in a straightforward, easy-to-read style that most readers will enjoy.

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