Elegant pros written not to impress, but to express. There is cathartic release in turning the thoughts of the mind into words on paper, and these personal thoughts and observations, when penned alone, have an honesty, transparency and humility that is rare to find elsewhere. The Journal of Katherine Mansfield is a book which possesses this rare form of honesty, and one which has the power to connect with an audience generations removed.
Within her journal, Mansfield eloquently articulates life’s duality. You can feel the weight of her sickness, doubt and depression in the words of a single passage. Yet, in one passage more, the shadow cast on her living room floor can remind you of the exquisite simplicities that bring wonder to an attuned eye. Her every detail and observation is expressed in such a way as to inspire your own commitment to take in life more presently. Her health hinges on these observations. Persevering through periods of sickness, she draws in life's details to give sustenance to her continued living.
The duality of life, and the doubts held by Mansfield in her ability to persevere, are themes carried throughout her entries. The universal nature of Mansfield’s doubts and struggles make the book timeless. Though we live in what has been labeled an egotistical era, we are as self-critical and self-conscious as ever. We measure our efforts, happiness and talents against the social media curated versions we see of others—versions which cast our peers through a rose-colored, and not truly authentic, lens. The honesty Mansfield shows in expressing her own reservations, insecurities and doubts transcends generational lines, allowing her work to maintain relevance today, almost a century removed from the time when her words were written.
The Journal of Katherine Mansfield spans from 1910 to 1922, documenting the time when she lived primarily in London, pursuing her work as an author. Her words, though they are from a different time, are valuable to hold alongside the voices of the present. Each voice adds to the greater dialogue, and as a voice for women, Mansfield’s holds a strong place. Her entries are not filled with longings toward men. She is a driven by passions beyond relational fulfillment. Her identity is not tied to a man. Rather, it is tied to her life’s work—her writing, which she pursues fervently and tirelessly. In this way, she does not fit the traditional cast set for women of her time. She defies the bounds of gender normativity, and stays committed to her passion, while still acknowledging her own frailty and humanity. She is not always strong. She is not without emotion. She can long for a man, but she knows a man will not fulfill her life’s purpose. Above all, Mansfield is willing to fight, even when the fight exhausts her. She fights for honesty and she fights for her deepest desire, “to be a writer, to have ‘a body of work’ done.”
Though perhaps less acknowledged than her peers, like Virginia Woolf, Mansfield’s voice is one which should not be ignored. It deserves to be heard, for in it is the comfort of a human soul which longs and desires deeply, and which sees life through a candid lens. It acknowledges the beautiful intricacies, and the numbing pain that coexist in the days and months of fleeting years.
A Digression. Persephone Books.
Anyone living or visiting London, I highly suggest a visit to Persephone Books, easily my favorite book store in London. Persephone aims to republish works, primarily by women authors, that have been overlooked and under-appreciated. The gender gap was just as present in the publishing world as it was in other industries. I myself for quite some time, counted Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Dickens as among the best authors to exist, failing to acknowledge their female counterparts, primarily because I'd never been exposed to their work. I now count many female authors within this list and am grateful for my every visit to Persephone books, where I find even more female writers to hold in admiration. Located on Lamb's Conduit Street, and only a few doors down from Noble Rot Wine Bar (the perfect pit stop after a purchase, if you ask me), it's certainly worth stopping in. I've posted a link to Persephone's website below, if interested.
"Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers. All of our 125 books are intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written and are chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial. We publish novels, short stories, diaries, memoirs and cookery books; each has an elegant grey jacket, a ‘fabric’ endpaper with matching bookmark, and a preface by writers such as Jilly Cooper, David Kynaston and Elaine Showalter."
Enjoying and learning from this chapter as the pages turn