Mans­field’s first work re­vealed


A sleuthing au­thor look­ing back at Welling­ton’s dis­eased, greedy colo­nial past has un­earthed the first pub­lished work by Kather­ine Mans­field – writ­ten when she was 11.

His­to­rian Red­mer Yska made the find at Welling­ton City Li­brary while re­search­ing the early life of the au­thor for his book, A Strange Beautiful Ex­cite­ment: Kather­ine Mans­field’s Welling­ton 1888–1903.

Yska hit the lit­er­ary jack­pot while trawl­ing through jour­nals and came across a story ti­tled His Lit­tle Friend by Kathleen MBeauchamp (Mans­field’s given name) on the Chil­dren’s Page of the New Zealand Graphic edi­tion of Oc­to­ber 13, 1900.

It pre­dates her first known pub­lished work by seven years.

The story – about the friend­ship be­tween a lonely, el­derly man and a poor child – shows the young Mans­field ‘‘grap­pling with harsh, bleak truths at a young age, paving the way for much of what was to come’’, Yska said at the launch of his book at Unity Books in Welling­ton.

Yska’s book ex­plores an un­savoury, cor­rupt and dis­ease-rid­den turn-of-the­cen­tury Welling­ton that shaped Mans­field’s young life.

‘‘Ki­wis tend to see Kather­ine Mans­field as a grown woman in her 20s, the vamp with the bob and the far­away eyes. She’s al­ways in Lon­don: book­ish, cos­mopoli­tan, swal­lowed up in a cloud of Blooms­bury cig­a­rette smoke.’’

This was in part be­cause most of her mainly Bri­tish bi­og­ra­phers thought her story started when she left Welling­ton, but Yska said she spent nearly half her life in the cap­i­tal. And, even af­ter she left, she never stopped writ­ing about it.

Mans­field was born in Welling­ton in 1888 and died in France from tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, aged 34.

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