Selected Stories of Katherine Mansfield

By | September 27, 2023

Guest post by Todd Martin

Selected Stories of Katherine Mansfield

While one cannot really know the mind of the author—and perhaps an author doesn’t fully know her own mind in the moment of creation—notes, manuscripts, and letters provide traces of intent. Insisting on the agency of the author of a work, Sally Bushell establishes some parameters for aligning the potential of genetic criticism with authorial intent, though she rightly stops short of attributing any finality to what one can know about an author’s intentions. Her main point is that the preliminary works of a text reveal a process—the teleology noted above. Having materials showing a process, while it doesn’t preclude the reader’s experience of a text, certainly places a work within a temporal context so that, in contrast to the post-structuralist approach, the text does not exist simply in the act of reading.[1] Rejecting Wimsatt and Beardsley’s contention that even the act of revision reveals “only the very abstract, tautological, sense that he intended to write a better work and now has done it,”[2] Bushell draws from cognitive theory and speech act theory, arguing that to act on intention reveals it: “[T]here seems to be a distinction between a pre-planned and internally anticipated event and the more immediate putting of that aim or purpose into practice through action. The ulterior intention is thus more distanced from action than the immediate intention which either directly precedes, or somehow partakes of, the action.”[3] In other words, while one may not be able to know what goes through another’s mind, a semblance of that “ulterior intention” is revealed when someone acts on that intention. For the author, the act of intentionality is visibly preserved in the phrase or sentence struck through in a manuscript, or the word or punctuation substitution on the proof-sheet. Thus, according to Bushell, genetic criticism provides a point of overlap between textual criticism and literary criticism in which compositional material can be used “to clarify and pursue cruxes within the published text which are revealed, explained, or contradicted by knowledge of the shape, structure and development of the poem in the compositional process.”[4]

            The value of modern manuscript collections, like the Katherine Mansfield materials held at both the Turnbull Library and the Newberry Library, become evident in the potential of such an approach to an author’s work. Margaret Scott and Vincent O’Sullivan have done an excellent service for Mansfield scholars in editing her letters and notebooks and making them more readily available. However, one of the oversights of the two volumes of notebooks that Scott edited is that she omitted drafts of Mansfield’s works that had been published. Thus, unless one scours her footnotes, one may not realize that the notebooks include extant drafts of some of Mansfield’s key stories. For example, the Newberry Library holds two distinct drafts of “Je ne parle pas français,” one of which is a roughed-out draft and the other a cleaner, copied draft.[5] However, an even earlier draft of the story appears in Mansfield’s Notebook 14, which the Turnbull Library has in its holdings.[6] Likewise, the Newberry has a draft of “The Garden Party,”[7] but another draft exists in the Turnbull’s collection in Notebook 41.[8] While some British modernist writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce have had their manuscripts published in genetic versions or facsimile, only Vincent O’Sullivan’s edited version of The Aloe printed alongside “Prelude” provides anything similar.[9] Thus, access to Mansfield’s manuscripts is considerably limited, yet the potential of a genetic study of her writing process and the possibilities for illuminating some of her stories is significant.

            The work of a genetic critic begins by chronologically arranging the available materials. While Mansfield has numerous notebooks, this is a relatively simple task because although the notebooks include many of Mansfield’s false starts, most of her later stories appear to have been composed in full drafts. One gets a glimpse at Mansfield’s process in her comment about the composition of “A Cup of Tea” (1922): “Wrote & finished A Cup of Tea. It took about 4-5 hours. […] There is no feeling to be compared with the joy of having written and finished a story. I did not go to sleep but nothing mattered. There it was new and complete.”[10] This is not to suggest that she wrote all of her stories quickly or even in one sitting, for one may have found crumpled pages of various drafts around her writing table. However, given that few draft notes exist beyond full drafts, despite her numerous notebooks, it at least appears that she wrote many of these in their entirety. Looking at the composition of the early drafts, one notes that her handwriting moves from relative legibility to almost indecipherable as the story unfolds. It appears, then, she formulated the stories in her head, working out the details, and then wrote them down in full, likely revising as she went and then again while reading back through the draft. Afterwards, she copied out a cleaner copy for a typist or, when able, typed them herself.  

            The changes made directly to a particular draft, as well as those occurring between drafts—including minute changes such as punctuation—are of particular interest to genetic critics. Such changes show the author making artistic choices, choices that not only affect the quality of the work but also the way readers respond to and understand a work.


[1] For a full account of Bushell’s response to post-structuralism (especially Roland Barthes’ “death of the author”), see “Textual Process and the Denial of Origins.”

[2] Wimsatt and Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy,” 470.

[3] Sally Bushell, “Intention Revisited: Toward an Anglo-American ‘Genetic Criticism,’” Text 17 (2005): 55-91 (69).

[4] Bushell, “Intention Revisited,” 86.

[5] See the Katherine Mansfield Papers, the Newberry Library, (box 1, folders 27, 26).

[6] See Writings and Personal Papers of Katherine Mansfield, (MS-Group-38, qMS-1259).

[7] See the Katherine Mansfield Papers, the Newberry Library, (box 1, folder 18).

[8] See Writings and Personal Papers of Katherine Mansfield, (MS-Group-38, qMS-1277).

[9] Vincent O’Sullivan, The Aloe: with “Prelude,” ed. Vincent O’Sullivan (Wellington: Carcanet New Press, 1983).

[10] CW4, 402-3.


Selected Stories of Katherine Mansfield

Todd Martin, editor of Selected Stories of Katherine Mansfield, Todd Martin is Professor of English at Huntington University where he currently holds the Edwina Patton Chair of Arts and Sciences. He was recently awarded the Lester J. Cappon Fellowship in Documentary Editing at the Newberry Library in Chicago, IL. He is the Membership Secretary of the Katherine Mansfield Society and serves as co-editor of the Society’s book series, Katherine Mansfield Studies. He has published on a wide variety of authors, including E. E. Cummings, Clyde Edgerton, Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez, Sherwood Anderson, and Katherine Mansfield.

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