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Visiting the New Zealand Home of Katherine Mansfield

By Audrey Golden. Nov 9, 2016. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Literature, Literary travel

If you’re interested in modernism and in the works of important women writers, you should familiarize yourself with the work of New Zealand short-story writer Katherine Mansfield. There’s no better way to get excited about this author than to visit her childhood home in Wellington, New Zealand if you happen to find yourself on the other side of the world.

Learning More About Katherine Mansfield’s Literary Work

Katherine_Mansfield_BTYWSince you might not be too familiar with Mansfield’s literary work, we’ll begin by telling you a bit about her writings before moving on to a description of her birthplace. As a story* in the New Zealand Ledge contends, “Katherine Mansfield revolutionized the 20th Century English short story.”

Writing at a time in which the newness of modernism was just becoming prominent, Mansfield’s short stories helped to break down the typical tropes of the short story and to bring a deep sense of interiority to the narrative universe. As that article argues, “her best work shakes itself free of plots and endings and gives the story, for the first time, the expansiveness of the interior life, the poetry of feeling, the blurred edges of personality . . . . [H]er fiction retains its relevance through its open-endedness—its ability to raise discomforting questions about identity, belonging, and desire.”

Some of her most notable short stories include:

“How Pearl Button Was Kidnapped” (1912)

 “The Garden Party” (1922)

“The Doll’s House” (1922)

“The Canary” (1923)

Birthplace and Childhood Home of Katherine Mansfield

Lives_Letters_BTYWMansfield died exceptionally young, at the age of 34, from tuberculosis. She was born in Wellington, New Zealand, where her childhood home—now a museum open to visitors—is located. As the website** for the Katherine Mansfield House & Garden explains, Mansfield’s father, Harold Beauchamp, built the home for three generations of his family. From 1888 to 1893, Katherine lived in the house with her aunts, her maternal grandmother, her parents, and her two sisters. The home was restored in the 1980s with the establishment of the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society.

Upon visiting the home, you can see items that belonged to Katherine and her family, including chairs and a desk. The garden has also been restored and is now part of the New Zealand Gardens Trust. To give you a sense of her writing style, here are the first few lines from “The Garden Party,” one of the short stories for which Mansfield is well known:

“And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer. The gardener had been up since dawn, mowing the lawns and sweeping them, until the grass and the dark flat rosettes where the daisy plants had been seemed to shine. As for the roses, you could not help feeling they understood that roses are the only flowers that impress people at garden-parties; the only flowers that everybody is certain of knowing.”

The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society highlights how the young writer gained inspiration for her future works from her family’s garden and from her experiences as a girl on Tinakori Road. The museum is open six days a week, and we encourage you to plan a visit if you’re traveling to Wellington in the near future.

Browse Modern First Editions

*Read the full story in the New Zealand Ledge here. **Browse the website here.

Audrey Golden
World literature scholar and erstwhile lawyer. Lover of international travel, outdoor markets, and rare books.

 

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