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
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).
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.
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.
"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
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.)
CUP edition of
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
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
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
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
for a second Darroch contradicting another* tenet
of established Lawrence scholarship would have been hard
to read Sandra's essay.