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This review is taken from PN Review 17, Volume 7 Number 3, January - February 1981.

'HAD SHE BUT LIVED . . .' Antony Alpers, The Life of Katherine Mansfield (Cape) £9.50

The writer who dies young and leaves behind a small oeuvre of promise is bound to fall victim eventually to sentimental misrepresentations. And the biographer, however vigilant, who spends as long as thirty years researching the life of such a writer is likely to enforce these distortions, tempted, as he must be in the course of time, by that treacherous territory, If only. . . . Antony Alpers is a biographer who, if he restricts the number of his visits to that land, only does so by keeping an eye trained on its borders throughout his Life of Katherine Mansfield. Feeling responsible for her reputation, he transforms the very good short-story writer that she was to 'one of the major figures of modern English letters'.

This large claim, made on the dust-jacket, prepares us for Mr Alpers's preface, where Katherine Mansfield's life is referred to as 'that story so darkly tragic'. Even the lady herself, with her love of self-dramatization, would have raised an eyebrow at that. But the tone of the book is established. We are to have not only The Life of but The Case for, a frequent biographical by-product, but here a tedious example, since Alpers rests the case not so much upon critical values (which in Katherine Mansfield's case would have done the trick), as upon emotive accounts of the nature of the consumptive and the trials, which were considerable, of living with John Middleton Murray.

Having studied for so long ...


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