Katherine Mansfield

Topics: Aesthetics, Sublime, Colonialism / Pages: 9 (2249 words) / Published: Nov 12th, 2013
atherine Mansfield’s experiences growing up in colonial New Zealand heightened her awareness of the discontinuities, lacunae, and tensions of modern life. She was born in 1888 in Wellington, a town labeled “the empire city” by its white inhabitants, who modeled themselves on British life and relished their city’s bourgeois respectability.[1] At an early age, Mansfield witnessed the disjuncture between the colonial and the native, or Maori, ways of life, prompting her to criticize the treatment of the Maoris in several diary entries and short stories.[2] Mansfield’s biographer, Angela Smith, writes: “It was her childhood experience of living in a society where one way of life was imposed on another, and did not quite fit in” that sharpened her modernist impulse to focus on moments of “disruption” or encounters with “strange or disturbing” aspects of life.[3]

Her feelings of disjuncture were accentuated when she arrived in Britain in 1903 to attend Queen’s College. In many respects, Mansfield remained a lifelong outsider, a traveler between two seemingly similar yet profoundly different worlds. After briefly returning to New Zealand in 1906, she moved back to Europe in 1908, living and writing in England and parts of continental Europe. Until her premature death from tuberculosis at the age of 34, Mansfield remained in Europe, leading a Bohemian, unconventional way of life.
The Domestic Picturesque

Mansfield’s short story “Prelude” is set in New Zealand and dramatizes the disjunctures of colonial life through an account of the Burnell family’s move from Wellington to a country village. The story takes its title from Wordsworth’s seminal poem, “The Prelude,” the first version of which was completed in 1805, which casts the poet as a traveler and chronicles the “growth of a poet’s mind.”[4] Although the Burnell family moves a mere “six miles” from town, the move is not inconsequential; it enacts a break with their previous way of life and alerts the family

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