Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield" by http://www.katherinemansfield.net/life/briefbio1.htm. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Katherine Mansfield 1912. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Kathleen Beauchamp was born in Tinakori Rd, Wellington in 1888, third daughter of Annie (Dyer) and Hal (later Sir Harold) Beauchamp. She lived in Wellington until 1903, when she went to school in London. She returned in 1906 and stayed till 1908. During this time she had two passionate friendships, with artist Edith Kathleen Bendall (EKB), and with her schoolmate Maata Mahupuku, (Martha Grace).

Bendall was nine years older than Kathleen, and had taken lessons from Frances Hodgkins. Bendall had a studio a few doors away from the Beauchamp house (now the site of the US Embassy) and it was Kathleen who made the first move, inviting EKB to stay alone with her at the family bach at Days Bay. On June 1, 1907, she wrote in her journal:

“Last night I spent in her arms – and tonight I hate her – which being interpreted, means that I adore her; that I cannot lie in my bed and not feel the magic of her body. I feel more powerfully all those so-termed sexual impulses with her than I have with any man. She enthrals, enslaves me – and her personal self – her body absolute – is my worship.”

Edith Bendall married a Wellington schoolmaster and lived to 107, dying in 1986, her marriage forgotten but her relationship with KM remembered. She kept KM’s letters to her for most if not all of her life. Their present whereabouts is unknown.

Maata Mahupuku was the daughter of a Miss Sexton (later married to a Mr Grace) and a brother of chief Tamahau Mahupuku of the Wairarapa. She met KM in 1900 at Miss Swainson’s school (now Marsden School) when they were both in early adolescence. Their relationship probably began before KM left for England the first time. They met again in London in 1906. KM was by this time involved with Ida Baker – but her affair with Maata continued on their return to Wellington. In June 1907 she wrote:

“I alone in this silent clockfilled room have become powerfully – I want Maata – I want her as I have had her – terribly. This is unclean I know but true. What an extraordinary thing – I feel savagely crude – and almost powerfully enamoured of the child. I had thought that a thing of the Past- Heigh Ho!!!!! My mind is like a Russian novel.”

In 1907 KM wrote a short story, “Leves Amores” and (foolishly!) had her father’s secretary, Mattie Putnam, type it up. (She signed it “K. Mansfield” but did not take the name Katherine till 1910.) Mattie showed it to her father and it was probably this that caused the problems with her family that resulted in her leaving New Zealand in July 1908, never to return.

KM’s relationship with Ida Baker (“LM” after her uncle, Lesley Moore) lasted until KM’s death in 1923, and LM herself has published a memoir of it (Katherine Mansfield, the Memories of LM, 1971).

Among papers found after KM’s death was a letter folded in another on which was written “Never to be read, on your honour as my friend, while I am still alive. K. Mansfield”, but not addressed to anyone:

“Did you ever read the life of Oscar Wilde – not only read it but think of Wilde – picture his exact decadence? And wherein lay his extraordinary weakness and failure?”

“In New Zealand Wilde acted so strongly and terribly upon me that I was constantly subject to exactly the same fits of madness as those which caused his ruin and his mental decay.”

She also wrote in her journal:

“Risk – risk anything. Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the thing hardest on earth for you to do. Act for yourself. Face the Truth.”

Thanks to Alison J. Laurie.