Monday, April 1, 2013

Review: The Montana Stories, by Katherine Mansfield


Pages: 327
Original date of publication: 1921-1928
My copy: 2007 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, October 2012

Katherine Mansfield wrote the 25 stories in this collection during the 9 months she spent at Montana sur Sierre in Switzerland, seriously ill with tuberculosis. The stories are arranged in the order she wrote them, and many were left unfinished. Some characters are recurring; Mansfield also gained inspiration from other writers, including Chekhov, Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and DH Lawrence.

Mansfield chastised herself for writing “lowbrow” stories and made jokes about them (“the Mercury is bringing out that very long seaweedy story of mine ‘At the Bay.’ I feel inclined to suggest to them to give away a spade an’ bucket with each copy…”); but as the publisher’s note at the end says, “what choice did she have?” Mansfield wrote herself that she did not consider herself a good writer. But what we see in Mansfield’s stories is an interest in human relationships; we also see, in this period leading up to her death, an increasing interest in mortality. What these stories show is an interest in the diversity of life, for Mansfield wrote about all types of people going though all types of situations.

The note at the beginning says that Mansfield would not have approved of having these unedited stories anthologized, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the unfinished stories here are more like ideas for stories rather than fully fleshed out stories. Several of the stories were left unfinished because Mansfield turned her attention to writing magazine articles in order to pay for treatment; still, you get the impression that these stories have a lot of potential. Some of the finished stories were published in Sphere magazine and are here accompanied by (highly stylized) illustrations.

Extracts of Mansfield’s diary from this time are reprinted in the publisher’s note at the end of the book, and give the reader a sense of context. In all, this is an interesting glimpse into the mind of an author who knew she was dying and yet had one of the most creative periods of her life (perhaps fueled by the fact that she knew she was dying?). As Mansfield wrote in her journal, “Stronger than all these desires, is the other, which is to make good before I do anything else. The sooner the books are finished, the sooner I shall be well, the sooner my wishes will be in sight of fulfillment.”


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