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"Beautiful External Life to Watch and Ponder": Katherine Mansfield Confronting the Material

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posted on 2021-11-10, 05:50 authored by McDaniels, Ivy

Throughout her famously short, disrupted career, Katherine Mansfield chased the idea of "warm, eager living life,"attempting to translate this vivid experience of being in the world into fiction. This passage, written in late 1922, shows the author focusing on her fascination with vivid, personal interaction with the material world. Mansfield convinces herself that the pursuit of "warm, eager living life" and the experience of submerging herself in it - "to be rooted in life" - is what she must strive for once she regains her health. Unfortunately, Mansfield's health declined steadily after this passage was written, and she died at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleau on the 9th of January, 1923. In addition to various personal possessions, Mansfield left behind a host of written material: personal letters, journal entries and jottings, drafts of stories and poems, and published volumes, which document her attempts at submerging herself in a vividly experienced life. Her stories full of characters self-consciously attempting to anchor their vague and variable identities in the material world, graphic sensory detail, and ambiguous imagery register Mansfield's determination to describe exquisite, sensible life. Throughout the writing, she displays a keen interest in and fixation on the material world. Mansfield's colonial childhood, her preference for luxury, her feelings of disunity and dividedness, and the fleetingness of her life made more poignant by various levels and types of consumption inform her piercing awareness of the material world. Critical attention to the materiality of Mansfield's writing highlights that this writer, so determined to be "rooted in life," documents everywhere the frail but persistent efforts of characters to find substance in the ephemeral and attach changeable selves to things.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of English, Film, Theatre and Media Studies


Williams, Mark