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.