• Mansfield Musings

Making Connections...

‘It isn’t what you know but who you know’ as the old adage about success runs. Sue Casson explores how young Katherine Mansfield made her literary mark in London.

Holborn, London c. 1910

When Kathleen Beauchamp arrived in London to seek her fortune as a writer she was already better placed than many women of her generation to make a splash. Although anxious to leave her well to do colonial family, this accident of birth had given Katherine considerable advantages. She had enjoyed a privileged education, one that included European travel and encouragement to read and play music. Her family may have been reticent about her taking this expression to a professional level, but they didn't stand in her way. Her father provided her with an allowance to provide fall back support from the very beginning.

She didn’t just wish to be a professional writer, she already was. Her first stories had been printed in the High School Reporter when she was just 10, and another made its’ way into the New Zealand and Graphic Woman’s Journal a year later. Several of her pieces had been published, for money, in The Native Companion before she left New Zealand.

Musical Connections

To her eyes her family might be the antithesis of the bohemian Trowells, but her father’s position as a director of the Bank of New Zealand had given him a place in society that enabled he and his wife to invite visiting dignitaries into their home – among them many of the foremost musicians and singers of the day. Kathleen had become used to socialising with these people, seeing them as her equal, and felt confident enough to renew these acquaintances once she was in London.

Nineteen-year-old Kathleen knew she had the power to fascinate, her family’s money had given her the resources to buy the clothes that enabled her to appear as she wished to be seen. All she had to do was to decide, at this stage in any given situation, how that was. The nascent Katherine Mansfield was a confident, apparently emancipated young woman. If she encountered the artistic company she craved, she had the means to make a big impression.

Family Connections

Her relations in England might be unlikely to provide these introductions, even if they had shown much interest in the young KM beyond cursory familial obligation. However, she was not the isolated cuckoo in the nest that she has sometimes been painted. Her father’s cousin who had settled in Bexley was in turn the father of Elizabeth, now von Arnim, known for Elizabeth’s German Garden amongst other books, and her sister Charlotte was the mother of Sydney Waterlow, who later introduced Katherine to Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

But for now Elizabeth was in Germany, and Kathleen had to look elsewhere to nurture the connections her career would require. The musical Trowell family, already a source of inspiration to her, played a significant role in this, for it was through them she met journalist Caleb Saleeby,(surely worth a song for his name alone). He and his wife enjoyed entertaining musicians and singers alongside his literary and newspaper friends, took to Katherine and invited her often. As a Fabian, he counted George Bernard Shaw amongst his acquaintances, and who else might KM have met around is table?

Connections of Connections

It was possibly here she met her first husband George Bowden (though as singer and teacher he was also part of the Trowell’s circle) who when she took lessons with him not only gave her an entry to perform at society parties as she experimented with becoming a performer, but later introduced her to William Orage, editor of The New Age magazine.

Wittily nicknamed the ‘No Wage’ by its’ editor for its’ inability to pay contributors, it may not have made Katherine rich, but it provided the first consistent platform for her work in London. What’s more she later attributed to him an education in becoming a writer.

‘…you taught me to think, you showed me what there was to be done, and what not to do.’

Being amongst a roster of contributors to the magazine also put her at the centre of the company she was seeking, provided her with the introduction that brought her very first publishing deal, for her stories written In a German Pension and through contributor and mentor Willy George, an introduction to John Middleton Murry who was to play such a significant role in her life from then on.

All this took a little over 3 years since Katherine’s first arrival in London – the length of a degree course she never took. Of course the life she lived and what she learnt in this time was of enormous importance to her writing – but What she knew may never have come to our notice without Who she knew, and her ultra-modern skills in canny networking.

There are 10 further blogs in my Mansfield Musings series and more to come! Why not subscribe at the link above to make sure you don't miss the next one.

Photograph of Holborn 1910 (just around the corner from the New Age offices in Chancery Lane) from Postcards Now & Then

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