Filling the gaps

20 August 2012

Today six cartons of the recently acquired papers of John Middleton Murry – including a significant cache of papers relating to Katherine Mansfield – arrived on our work tables. It's an exciting day for the Arrangement and Description team, as there is widespread interest in the Mansfield component of the collection and its arrival has been preceded by a spate of publicity.

Mansfield's most recent biographer, Kathleen Jones, has sorted the papers in a way which met her research needs, and we find that they fit into four groups: papers relating to Katherine Mansfield; papers of John Middleton Murry (drafts of essays, talks, reviews, correspondence, material sent to him as editor of several literary magazines); correspondence between D.H. and F. Lawrence and Murry; and papers of Murry's fourth wife, Mary Gamble.

I've been given the Katherine Mansfield carton – wonderful!

Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry at their home at Chaucer Mansions, Kensington, London. Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry at their home at Chaucer Mansions, Kensington, London. Taken by an unknown photographer October 1913. Ref: 1/2-028635-F

21 August 2012

I sit here, looking through a narrow, concrete-blinkered window of the National Library on Molesworth Street (just 10 minutes walk from Mansfield’s birthplace on Tinakori Road), and watch spring sunshine lighting the flanks and facades of neighbouring late 20th century government buildings. From the chronology of Katherine Mansfield on my desk, I note that it’s 100 years this month since she and John Middleton Murry left London and set up home in a country cottage at Runcton, near Chichester.

Once I make a start I can see what rich variety is here: telegrams, letters, shopping lists, a prescription, envelopes with pressed flowers, critical notes on a D.H. Lawrence novel, a scolding letter to a young woman who is having an affair with Murry, a pen and ink sketch on a letter to him, a translation of a letter from Chekhov, fragments of Mansfield’s literary writing, fond letters from her father, letters and a postcard posted in Wellington from the Lawrences.

I think about the actual history of these papers. They have been bought by the Library from a grand-daughter of Murry, but I have many questions about how they have been used over the years since their creation. Some of the papers may never have seen the light of day (or at least, the light of publication), and others have been copied, published and commented on many times. I look forward to making them visible and usable online through the Turnbull Library’s finding aid for unpublished collections called TAPUHI under the reference number MS-Group-2101.

Blog Km Aug Sept 2012 V2Cartons containing the papers of John Middleton Murry as prepared by Mansfield's biographer, Kathleen Jones. Photo: M. Townend

Kathleen Jones has put the Mansfield items into numbered folders with brief descriptions on their covers. She has also left us a helpful numbered list. I look through every folder carefully, slowly, and give the items a new number – part of the reference. In some cases I retain the original order, in others I give individual items their own folder and reference, to highlight their particular content. Then I go to work on the computer and describe each piece with as much detail as possible to reveal its place in the context of Mansfield’s life. The stack of books on my desk grows daily. Antony Alpers' The life of Katherine Mansfield is invaluable, with its detailed chronology. I also make good use of the biographies on Kathleen Jones’ website. When the description is finished I enclose the papers in labelled acid free folders where they will rest until sought out by the next researcher.

The Library must feel a sense of completion with the acquisition of this, the last deposit of Katherine Mansfield material. While the bulk of the collection relates to John Middleton Murry and early 20th century English literature, the Mansfield papers are the raison d’être for the purchase. The Turnbull Library has long held the essential components of her writing – journals, notebooks, prose and poetry – but this miscellany provides an intriguing and very welcome complement to the core collection.

Katherine Mansfield's sketch and note to John Middleton Murry: 'This is the kind of place that would be so nice…'. UndatedKatherine Mansfield's sketch and note to John Middleton Murry: 'This is the kind of place that would be so nice…'. Undated.

28 September 2012

I have completed 93 folders. An illustrated letter from Mansfield to Murry is my favourite item. It's a pen and ink drawing of a landscape with the sea in the background and a range of hills with a road winding down to a cottage set among trees. A horse and cart with spindly waving figures is descending the road. The message under the drawing begins This is the kind of place that would be so nice, Bogey.’

There is no date, and I puzzled over this for a while. However two photo-lithograph copies of the item have `Adelphi’ printed at the top, so I went to our holdings of the magazine (published from 1923, edited by Murry) and found the letter in the issue for July 1923 printed at the end of an article on Mansfield’s journals. A note suggests that the letter was written during the winter of 1915-1916 when Katherine and John had moved to Bandol, near Marseilles, after the death of her brother Leslie. That winter was not far from the half-way point of the 15 nomadic and restless – yet highly productive – years Mansfield spent between her return to London in 1908 until her death in Fontainebleau in 1923. It moves me because the letter has an optimistic and affectionate tone, and expresses such a longing for a home.

Word of our acquisition has spread and interest is already being shown within New Zealand and from overseas. The Turnbull will certainly be a focus of attention during the conference for Mansfield scholars planned for 2013 at Victoria University.

Teaser: Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry ca 1920. Ref: 1/2-028634-F

By Marion Townend

Marion works with the Arrangement & Description team of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Madelaine Reid December 31st at 4:37PM

Fascinating stuff, Marion. Greetings from the little cottage on the seaside hill.

Nicola Frean September 5th at 12:49PM

Lovely to see one result of the conference reach fruition, at