Mansfield, Katherine (1888–1923) By Welch, Bronwen
Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp was born in Wellington, New Zealand on October 14, 1888. Yet this bare factual statement in no way indicates Mansfield’s importance to the modernist movement, nor how she transformed the English short story. Mansfield’s writing utilizes key themes and dichotomies such as loneliness versus society; woman versus man; nature versus culture. Moreover, her style is characterized by its neutral (as opposed to emotional) tone, and her use of Symbolism to depict personal alienation.
Growing up in an arguably patriarchal, colonialist family, Mansfield adopted her middle name as a pseudonym when she was 19, perhaps to provide herself with a certain psychological distance from her upbringing. Indeed, much of her writing characterizes the tension between her unconventionality and her family’s solid affluence and high social standing. Her father, Harold Beauchamp, a successful banker, a vigorous and energetic man, longed for a son, but, to his disappointment, his first four children were female: Charlotte, Vera, Katherine and Jeanne (another sister, Gwendoline, died at four months). The longed-for son, Leslie Heron, did not arrive until 1894 (tragically Leslie was killed in 1915, fighting in France during World War I).