Yesterday I had de la veine and wrote in the afternoon and then went for a short walk along that bar that encloses the harbour. It was sunset. It’s a good place to walk—the sea on either side rushes up and the town—just showing a glimmer of light here and there—looked marvellous. I sat on a stone and began thinking “I believe it is perfectly necessary to one’s spiritual balance to be somewhere where you can see the sun both rise and set, etc., etc.” and such like nonsense—très sérieux—when I remarked a gazelle-like military form approaching—in blue with a braided cap. This ensemble, thought I, is exactly like the cover of a 95 centimes novel. Myself on a rock—a red sunset behind—this graceful form approaching… It came near—and then a blithe, cheerful dead sure voice positively hailed me. “Vous vous promenez seule, Madame?” I had a good look at the upstart. Olive skin, silk eyebrows and silky moustache. Vain—there is no word for it. I said, “Oui, Monsieur, seule.” “Vous demeurez à l’hôtel Beau Rivage, n’est-ce pas?” Silence. “Je vous ai déjà remarqué plusieurs fois.” (His French was right. Mine isn’t.) Then I looked up at him like Frank Harris would look at Dan Rider quoting Shakespeare—and he drew himself up, saluted, said “Ah, pardon je suis indiscret.” I said exactly like Harris, “Très indiscret, Monsieur,” and walked home. Scarcely had I gained the road when a gentleman in a cape approached and “Vous vous promenez seule, Madame?” But that was a bit too steep. I said, “Non, Monsieur, avec une canne—” What a race! They’re like the German commercial travellers! Send me a bulldog in your next letter, sweetheart.
K. Mansfield, letter to J. M. Murry (December 11, 1915)
Damn those French.
Her letters are the best, and i love her French writing, including the mistakes.
I went to Chartier to lunch and had a maquereau grillé and épinards à la crème. It was very strange to be there alone. I felt that I was a tiny little girl and standing on a chair looking into an aquarium. It was not a sad feeling, only strange and a bit ‘femmeseuleish.’ As I came out it began to snow. A wind like carrying knife cut through the streets, and everybody began to run. So did I—into a café, and there I sat and drank a cup of hot black coffee. Then for the first time I felt in Paris.
It was a little café and hideous, with a black marble top to the counter, garni with lozenges of white and orange. Chauffeurs and their wives and fat men with immense photographic apparatus sat in it. And a white fox-terrier bitch, thin and eager, ran among the tables. Against the window beat a dirty French flag, fraying out on the wind and then flapping on the glass. Does black coffee make you drunk, do you think? I felt quite enivrée and could have sat three years, smoking and sipping and thinking and watching the flakes of snow. And then you know the strange silence that falls upon your heart—the same silence that comes one minute before the curtain rises. I felt that and knew that I should write here. I wish that you would write a poem about that silence some time. It is so peculiar. It is a kind of dying before the new breath is blown into you. As I write, I can almost see the poem you will make—I see the Lord alighting upon the breast of the man and He is very fierce. (Are you laughing at me?)
So after this intense emotion I dashed out of the café, bought some oranges and a packet of rusks and went back to the hotel. Me voici! The garçon has just polished the handles of the door; they are winking and smelling somethink horrible. The sky is full of snow, but everything is clear to see—the trees against the tall houses, so rich and so fine, and on the grey streets the shiny black hats of the cabmen are like blobs of Lawrence’s paint. It’s very quiet. A bird chirrups, a man in wooden shoes goes by. Now I shall start working.
K. Mansfield, letter to J. M. Murry (March 19, 1915)
Sleeping together… how tired you were !… How warm our room… how the firelight spread On walls and ceiling and great white bed ! We spoke in whispers as children do, And now it was I—and then it was you Slept a moment, to wake “My dear, I’m not at all sleepy,” one of us said…
Was it a thousand years ago ? I woke in your arms—you were sound asleep— And heard the pattering sound of sheep, Softly I slipped to the floor and crept To the curtained window, then, while you slept, I watched the sheep pass by in the snow.
O flock of thoughts with their shepherd Fear Shivering, desolate, out in the cold, That entered into my heart to fold ! A thousand years… was it yesterday When we, two children of far away, Clinging close in the darkness, lay Sleeping together ?… How tired you were !…
"Why does one feel so different at night? Why is it so exciting to be awake when everybody else is asleep? Late—it is very late! And yet every moment you feel more and more wakeful, as though you were slowly, almost with every breath, waking up into a new, wonderful, far more thrilling and exciting world than the daylight one. And what is this queer sensation that you’re a conspirator? Lightly, stealthily you move about your room. You take something off the dressing-table and put it down again without a sound. And everything, even the bedpost, knows you, responds, shares your secret…"
While thumbing through the archives at King’s College, a graduate student uncovered four new stories by modernist short-story writer Katherine Mansfield. One story, “A Little Episode,” sheds light on the disastrous love triangle that left a young Mansfield pregnant and fleeing a hastily arranged marriage.
‘I was so delighted to get your letter. It came as I was having my tea alone - a half-spring evening, rather pale, and a branch of mimosa smelling very sweet.’Virginia Woolf writes to Katherine Mansfield.
Oh, my God! I am very happy. When I shut my eyes I cannot help smiling—You know what joy it is to give your heart—freely—freely. Everything that happens is an adventure. When the wind blows I go to the windiest possible place and I feel the cold come flying under my arms—When the sea is high I go down among the rocks where the spray reaches and I have games with the sea like I used to years ago. And to see the sun rise and set seems miracle enough.
- Katherine Mansfield, in a letter to S. S. Koteliansky (December 24, 1915).
"I think of you often. Especially in the evenings, when I am on the balcony and it’s too dark to write or to do anything but wait for the stars. A time I love. One feels half disembodied, sitting like a shadow at the door of one’s being while the dark tide rises. Then comes the moon, marvelously serene, and small stars, very merry for some reason of their own. It is so easy to forget, in a worldly life, to attend to these miracles."
— Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield: Volume 1: 1903-1917 (via larmoyante)