‘The Doll’s House’ by Katherine Mansfield

At the risk of giving away too much information, a small 1950s edition of A Dove’s Nest my wife picked up in Hay-on-Wye an age ago is on the windowsill of the downstairs loo along with some other essentials like a Claire Keegan book and The Penguin Book of Exorcisms. Mansfield has lingered with me for a few years, but only recently, partly because her story reflects something of Dorothy Edwards (and of course, Woolf, with whom Mansfield had a complex respectful rivalry). I am consistently astounded at how modern Mansfield’s voice remains – she was the consummate modernist, I guess. She is forthright, fearless, and exceedingly good company. I love that Virginia Woolf just couldn’t keep away from her. I don’t think Woolf particularly liked her, but she was compelled to be in her presence, to discuss writing with her, to explore that mind of hers. Mansfield was a New Zealander, and I think it’s important to remember something I heard Eleanor Catton once say about the psychology of the New Zealand writer, that people just don’t realise how isolated a place it is, and how far away from their closest neighbours they are. That has an effect in many ways, but particularly on how a writer views the world. Mansfield was, as the experts would have it, an adventuress, and her life story is even more brilliant in its colours of passion and intensity than the fiction she dedicated herself to. As her death encroached (she probably caught her tuberculosis from DH Lawrence) she wrote incessantly, and ‘The Doll’s House’ comes from this period. It is a great example of that voice I am so enraptured by. It is lively, funny, it cuts you dead with its swagger. I just love being around it.

First published in The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories, Middleton Murry, 1923, and widely collected. Available to read on the Katherine Mansfield Society website, here

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