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This article is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

Katherine Mansfield: Daring to Criticize Clare Hanson

I: Mansfield and Murry

'Not being an intellectual', Katherine Mansfield wrote to John Middleton Murry in 1920, 'I always seem to have to learn things at the risk of my life.' The remark suggests some of the dangers inherent in the enterprise of attempting to establish KM's reputation as a critic. She is alluding here, with some hostility, to Murry's book of critical essays The Evolution of an Intellectual (1920), and distancing herself from the kind of professional criticism produced by Murry, which did not often represent something learnt 'at the risk of [one's] life'. In an earlier letter she expressed her distaste for Murry's intellectual approach: a note of conviction is sustained rather than undermined by her admission of feelings of vulnerability in writing as a (relatively) uneducated woman and as a colonial - the 'little Colonial' from Karori.


But this intellectual reasoning is never the whole truth. It's not the artist's truth - not creative. If man were an intellect it would do, but man ISN'T. Now I must be fair, I must be fair. Who am I to be certain that I understand? There's always Karori to shout after me. Shout it.


From such a perspective KM's formal critical writings might be seen as anomalous: it could be argued that the reviews she wrote in 1919 and 1920 for the Athenaeum, in particular, were written against the grain, from a desire to placate Murry. Yet KM ...


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