New light on our most famous author
It's only six cartons of papers, but David Colquhoun is anticipating they’ll cause something of a stir among Mansfield scholars.
The manuscripts curator at the Alexander Turnbull Library is one of the few who have glanced through the collection of Mansfield papers recently purchased by the library. The material includes correspondence with literary greats D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot and H.G. Wells, Mansfield’s passport, family photographs, letters telling a Princess to back off from her husband, and handwritten recipes for orange soufflé and cold water scones. Many of the documents have not been seen publicly before.
“Some of it is very exciting,” Colquhoun says. “It’s good to see photographs that we’ve never seen before and many of the letters are quite personal and incredibly passionate. The correspondence between John Middleton Murray (Mansfield’s husband) and Frieda Lawrence (wife of D.H. Lawrence) is particularly revealing.”
(The Lawrences at one time lived in a ménage a quatre with Mansfield and her husband, but it ended in bitter animosity).
Another significant document is an unsent letter to Garnet Trowell, the father of Mansfield’s stillborn baby. It is rare because Mansfield, aged only 20 at the time of the tragedy, in her grief destroyed most of her notebooks and letters from this period.
Colquhoun says the material comes from the family of John Middleton Murray and is thought to be the last collection of Mansfield material held in a private collection. The library was alerted to its existence by Mansfield biographer Kathleen Jones who came across it during her research.
“The Turnbull Library has for many years held a great deal of material which came from the Murray family and this is what was left.”
After two years of negotiation with the family the documents were couriered to the library earlier this month. Colquhoun won’t say how much the Turnbull paid for the collection, but says the Murray family could have got a lot more.
“If the collection had been broken up and sold on the private market it would have made many hundreds of thousands of dollars. We’re very grateful the family decided to keep it together.”
The six cartons of documents will be added to the library’s extensive Mansfield collection of over 1,000 letters and most of the writer’s working notebooks.
“It will be a relatively small part of the collection, but significant. It really adds to the Turnbull’s world famous collection of Mansfield material.”
The new acquisitions have yet to be listed, described and digitized, but some of the letters and photographs are being displayed in the Turnbull’s reading room. The full collection will be available to researchers from late September.
“There is a Katherine Mansfield conference in Wellington early next year and we’re expecting a lot of interest in these new documents,” Colquhoun says.
- Niels Reinsborg