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Katherine Mansfield: Writing Style & Quotes

Instructor: Paulina Bouzas

Paulina studied Creative Writing and Literature in Mexico City and holds an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Eastern Finland.

In this lesson we will take a closer look at the writing style of a prominent author from New Zealand: Katherine Mansfield. She is part of the Modernism movement and is best known for her short stories, including ''The Garden Party''.

A Committed Writer

Katherine Mansfield once said ''I'm a writer first & a woman after.'' It comes as no surprise then that she became one of the most famous short story writers from New Zealand. She was born on October 14th, 1888, in Wellington; however, she spent most of her life in England.

Her love life was unconventional as she had a failed marriage, a miscarriage, and multiple relationships with both men and women until finally marrying essayist John Middleton Murry, with whom she lived a bohemian life in London. She died of tuberculosis in France in 1923, after publishing one of her most recognized short story collections, The Garden Party, and Other Stories (1922).

Author Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield

Mansfield cherished her job as a writer and once asked in a letter: ''would you not like to try all sorts of lives - one is so very small - but that is the satisfaction of writing - one can impersonate so many people.'' In addition to her short stories, she also became known for her poems and her multiple journal entries.

Not only did she appreciate what being a writer enabled her to do, she also admired other writers of the time. She was a contemporary of big names in the literary world like D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, whom she met in 1916. Mansfield had a strong admiration of Woolf as a writer, and even wrote a letter to her stating: ''We have got the same job, Virginia & it is really very curious & thrilling that we should both, quite apart from each other, be after so very nearly the same thing.''

A Modernist Writing Style

Katherine Mansfield was part of the Modernist movement in literature, a style that was popular from the 1910s to the 1920s. Modernist authors were particularly interested in exploring the subconscious and moving away from the previous movement, Realism, which sought to provide a true account of life. You can think of Modernism as a movement that wanted to break tradition and be set free from established values. Instead of portraying reality objectively, these writers preferred taking on a subjective point of view by going inside a character's mind, acknowledging that everyone sees and experiences the world differently.

Mansfield's writing is characterized by having a third person narrator who can travel in and out of a character's mind. She wrote about the characters' internal world and struggles and often focused on women. Such is the case in her famous short story ''The Garden Party'', where the protagonist, Laura, reflects on themes like life and death and differences in social classes. This is evident when Laura thinks about the men helping to set the party: ''why couldn't she have workmen for her friends rather than the silly boys she danced with and who came to Sunday night supper?''

Furthermore, her writings also feature plenty of rhetorical questions linked to what a character is experiencing, as for example in the story ''The Daughters of the Late Colonel'', where she states ''It wasn't real. It was only when she came out of the tunnel into the moonlight or by the sea or into a thunderstorm that she really felt herself. What did it mean? What was it she was always wanting?''

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