Katherine Mansfield’s SumurunFebruary 13th, 2013
Full of dark themes and imagery, a previously unknown work by Katherine Mansfield has been uncovered by Dr Gerri Kimber, a leading Mansfield scholar.
While working on the Turnbull Library’s recent acquisition of papers from the John Middleton Murry estate, Dr Kimber found several poems, fragments of stories… and a complete, unknown vignette.
She opens the iron barred window and leans out. Below her the hunchback sits on the stage thrumming his guitar, and the old comic woman, the snake charmer, and the little, fantastic audience, stir and cry aloud with the gestures and voices of dolls. The room behind her is quite dark but a bright light shines on her dusky face and hair, on her shimmering green dress and bare, brown arms. One thinks of a bird quivering a moment at the open door of the cage – there is just that wild eagerness about her – listening, one moment, for the live voice of liberty, and passionately indifferent to everything else.
Sumurun: An Impression of Leopoldine Konstantin is based on Max Reinhardt’s silent play Sumurûn, which Mansfield must have seen – Leopoldine Konstatin was the star.
Mansfield dressed in a Leopoldine mode, and the pages of the newly-found typescript. Photo by Mark Beatty.
Signed ‘Katharina Mansfield’, it must date from late 1910 or early 1911, Mansfield’s hashish-smoking, bisexual, drug-taking days. “There are dark images and even darker themes in the piece itself, which is probably why Murry never published it,” says Dr Kimber.
“The Turnbull owns a series of photos of Mansfield from 1911, where I think she may actually be trying to look like Leopoldine.”
Katherine Mansfield wearing an Arabian shawl, ca 1910. Ref: 1/4-059878-F
The story’s copyright status is currently unknown, but it will be available to researchers at the Turnbull Library, along with the other items in the acquisition. When possible, it will be made available to read online.