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By Robert Darroch



AT risk of being nepotistic, I am writing this article about a literary coup of my wife, Sandra (Jobson Darroch), which I believe is of importance to DH Lawrence and Katherine Masnsfield scholarship.

However, a coup is a coup is a coup (as Gertrude Stein might have said), and so Sandra's triumph at the recent Katherine Mansfield seminar at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology - their equivalent of the University of NSW - deserves to be brought to your attention.

…Katherine Mansfield? - that name should ring a bell with some of you.

She is New Zealand's most famous literary figure. Our equivalent of Patrick White, if you like (national-eminence-wise). Should you ever find yourself in Wellington, you must visit the Katherine Mansfield museum there, consisting of the well-preserved house where she was born…

…into a very distinguished family.

For her real name was not Mansfield, but Beauchamp, and her father was the head of the Bank of New Zealand. But she was a rebellious child, with literary - or at least artistic - ambitions. She was determined to go to London and break into the literary scene there (her main claim to literary fame is as a short-story writer).

Katherine's childhood
home in Wellington

I might comment here that if, perchance, you were to fancy yourself a budding Chekov - as Katherine did (she was a great fan of Chekov) - then windy Wellington is not a likely place in which to pursue a successful literary career, nor where to find international literary renown.

However, she made good her escape - to her parents' dismay - in the decade before WW1. In London she eventually achieved minor notoriety as a "colonial" female writer, before dying her early death in 1922 from that curse of the pre-war literary generation, "consumption" - ie, TB (Lawrence succumbed to it, too, in 1930).

She swam into our ken in the early 1970s, when Sandra was writing her biography of Lady Ottoline Morrell (the Bloomsbury salonniere). Katherine was one of the many literary moths drawn to Ottoline's bucolic salon at Garsington, along with her lover, and later husband, John Middleton Murry, himself a minor literary figure in Georgian London.

Lady Ottoline Morrell
Drawing by Paul Delprat

Later, she resurfaced in my ken too, for Katherine and Murry - known in Bloomsbury and Lawrence circles as "the Murrys" - were close friends of Lawrence and his wife Frieda ("the Lawrences"). In fact, the Murrys were the two witnesses at the Lawrences' Kensington Register Office marriage in 1914.

The "Murrys" at Lawrence and Frieda's wedding

The four of them - the Lawrences and the Murrys - later took themselves off to live a quatre in remote Cornwall, where they spent much of 1916 in adjacent stone cottages, before a row broke out, and the Murrys upped-stakes and decamped to live elsewhere.

They saw each other only once more, for a few weeks in Hampstead at the end of the war, before both couples departed for the continent, Katherine eventually to a sanatorium in France, and the Lawrences for Sicily, before they left Europe for Australia via Celyon in early 1922.

The last contact they had consisted of a postcard that Lawrence sent to Katherine from Wellington in August 1922, on his way from Sydney to San Francisco. It had a single word on it: "Ricordi" (memories). Katharine died at a TB clinic in Fontainebleau a few months later.

It was those memories that Sandra intended to write about when the DH Lawrence Society of Australia (of which Sandra is secretary) was asked if we would send someone down to Melbourne to take part in the RMIT Katherine Mansfield seminar on June 4-5.

Not entirely coincidentally, the Katherine Mansfield Society announced an essay competition (the results of which were announced at the seminar) on the topic "Katherine Mansfield and DH Lawrence". Sandra decided to enter the essay competition, and for that to become the basis of the paper she would give in Melbourne.

So that sets the scene now for her Melbourne triumph, and literary coup.

It is well known to both Mansfield and Lawrence scholars that, in what is regarded as Lawrence's greatest literary work, Women in Love, he portrayed Katherine - at least in part - as one of the principal characters, Gudrun.

The CUP edition of Women in Love


Indeed, the novel is about two couples - the parallel with the Lawrences and the Murrys is impossible to avoid - and in particular the female wing of the foursome (Ursula being largely based on Frieda, and Gudrun on Katherine).

That Lawrence habitually based his works of "fiction" on real people and real events is accepted by most scholars. When it came to the characters in his works, he was almost incapable of invention. Almost everything he wrote can be traced back ultimately to something in his actual life.

Though there is little serious dispute about this, Lawrence scholars do their best to play down the "reality" aspect in his works, preferring to paint their hero as a literary firebird, aflame with pure creative genius (and not grubbing around for inspiration in the actual world).

Now...the novel Lawrence wrote immediately after Women Love (itself published in 1921) was The Lost Girl. Like most of his earlier works, it was set in the Midlands in England, and in particular in the "fictional" village of Woodhouse,

which is obviously based on the village where he himself was born and grew up - Eastwood. (It is characteristic of Lawrence that even his "fictional" place-names are a twist on something real, eg: Eastwood=Woodhouse.)

The CUP edition of
The Lost Girl

The Lost Girl tells the story of a young girl of the town, Alvina Houghton, and her chequered attempts to break out of the traditional Victorian/Edwardian female role, and pursue a life in the wider, male-dominated world. Lawrence regarded this as the contemporary dilemma of "the modern woman".Everyone agrees that Lawrence based much of Alvina on an actual person he knew in Eastwood: Florence Cullen, the daughter of a local shopkeeper. The novel was originally called The Insurrection of Alvina Houghton - Alvina being (initially) Florence Cullen.

However, what Sandra discovered - and argued convincingly in both her essay and her paper delivered to the Mansfield seminar in Melbourne - was that Lawrence subsequently "switched" his heroine in mid-novel from Florence Cullen to Katherine Mansfield. Thus Katherine ended up as Lawrence's "Lost Girl".

This is a major literary insight, in both the world of Lawrence scholarship and to the world of Katherine Mansfield studies...but most particularly to the latter.

For it invests Katherine with a far greater importance in world literature than her previously-known depiction in Women in Love ever could have.

Because here is a novel written largely about her (rather than the subsidiary role she played in Women in Love). Moreover - and this is what captured the special interest of the Katherine Mansfield scholars in Melbourne - it plays out, in a major literary work, the real-life story of their heroine and literary idol, KM. For this is a novel about HER.

To get an inkling of how important this discovery is to the world of Katherine Mansfield scholarship (and to the even wider world of "feminist/colonial" literature) - and indeed to lonely, isolated New Zealand itself - you would have to imagine that it had been discovered that a major character in a 20th-century literary masterpiece was based on a famous Australian writer...

...that, say, Miles Franklin or HH Richardson turned out to have been portrayed as, say, Ursula in Women in Love. (Or, perhaps more pertinently, that Patrick White was the inspiration of "M" in EM Forster's homosexual novel, Maurice.) It would create something of a stir in Australian literary circles.

So, what was the reaction to Sandra's literary coup in Lawrence and Mansfield circles? Somewhat different, I have to tell you.

Present at the Melbourne seminar was the doyen of Katherine Mansfield studies, Professor Vincent O'Sullivan, of Victoria University in Wellington. He was a fan of Sandra's earlier biography of Ottoline, and warmly welcomed her and her Lost Girl thesis, promising to send her more confirmatory evidence that Katherine was indeed Lawrence's "Lost Girl". Other Mansfield scholars at the seminar were equally supportive and appreciative.

This positive reaction, however, was in stark contrast to the negative reception Sandra's essay on the same subject received from the judges of the KM-DHL competition. She did not even make the short-list. (Which, given what she had discovered, is little short of scandalous.)

Perhaps the reason for this rejection was the fact that on the judging panel was the editor of the UK Journal of DH Lawrence Studies, which is based in Nottingham, the headquarters of the Lawrence Centre, whose former head was John Worthen, the editor of the "authorised" Cambridge University Press edition of The Lost Girl - and the doyen of international Lawrence studies.

For his edition of The Lost Girl did not pick up the now blindingly-obvious fact that the later Alvina is a thinly-disguised literary portrait of Katherine Mansfield. Nor did the "authorised" author of the three-volume CUP biography of Lawrence, Mark Kinkead-Weeks, pick up the fact that Lawrence had based much of the novel on Katherine.

Which is a pretty big boo-boo.

So, perhaps the reason why Sandra's literary discovery did not make the essay short-list was that such distinguished Lawrence scholars as Worthen and Kinkead-Weeks could not be seen to have missed what was staring them in the face (see below for the link to the text of Sandra's essay and why it is so obvious).

That, and perhaps the fact that Sandra's essay was by: SANDRA JOBSON DARROCH

…for a second Darroch contradicting another* tenet of established Lawrence scholarship would have been hard to swallow.

Please click HERE to read Sandra's essay.