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The Life of Katherine Mansfield



The books in her room at the Terrace lined the wall from the floor upwards for some four or five feet : sitting on the floor, she could reach any volume. The little room was arranged like a studio : her writing table by the window, her few treasures page 229 carefully placed—the Velasquez Venus, six small nude studies, bowls of flowers, her ‘cello “dreaming in the corner.” Like Grandmother Mansfield, she loved tidiness; her room was a projection of herself. Trespassers were intolerable.

One afternoon, being torn away from her sanctuary to meet people at tea, she startled them all by bursting out furiously :“I loathe this provincial place! Nobody in it understands me, and they haven't any of my interests, and I detest it here!”

And on another occasion :“At five o'clock I go down to Wellington to watch Life.

Much of her time was spent upstairs, writing. When she closed the door, she could shut out the whole world :

“Oh! this monotonous, terrible rain. The dull, steady, hopeless sound of it. I have drawn the curtains across the windows to shut out the weeping face of the world—the trees swaying softly in their grief and dropping silver tears upon the brown earth, the narrow, sodden, mean, draggled wooden houses, colourless save for the dull coarse red of the roof, and the long line of grey hills, impassable, spectral-like.
“So I have drawn the curtains across my windows, and the light is intensely fascinating. A perpetual twilight broods here. The atmosphere is heavy with morbid charm. Strange, as I sit here, quiet, alone, how each possession of mine—the calendar gleaming whitely on the wall, each picture, each book, my ‘cello case, the very furniture—seems to stir into life. The Velasquez Venus moves on her couch ever so slightly; across the face of Manon a strange smile flickers for an instant and is gone, my rocking chair is full of patient resignation, my ‘cello case is wrapt in profound thought. Beside me a little bowl of mig- page 230 nonette is piercingly sweet, and a cluster of scarlet geraniums is hot with colour.
“Sometimes through the measured sound of the rain comes the long, hopeless note of a fog horn far out at sea. And then all life seems but a crying out drearily, and a groping to and fro in a foolish, aimless darkness. Sometimes—it seems like miles away—I hear the sound of a door downstairs opening and shutting.
“And I listen and think and dream until my life seems not one life, but a thousand million lives, and my soul is weighed down with the burden of past existence, with the vague, uneasy consciousness of future strivings.
“And the grey thoughts fall upon my soul like the grey rain upon the world, but I cannot draw the curtain and shut them out.” *