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For this fifth annual volume of Katherine Mansfield Studies, guest editor Janet Wilson and the series editors Gerri Kimber and Delia da Sousa Correa have assembled a cohesive selection of critical essays, creative writing, and archival reports to highlight several recent currents in postcolonial considerations of Mansfield and her oeuvre. Past studies of Mansfield have often subsumed the postcolonial within more pressing critical interventions, like establishing Mansfield’s place in the modernist canon, evaluating her feminist aesthetics, and revising biographical details after recovering those letters, journals, and fragments John Middleton Murry omitted. Thankfully, space has been opened in the field for in-depth critical analyses like this present volume. As a whole, these pieces demonstrate how Mansfield aligns (post)colonialism and modernism, while continually reiterating how her status as “the little colonial” in London catalyzed her growth into the modernist short-fiction writer she became. Wilson highlights Mansfield’s prescient “postcolonial vision,” an “anticipatory discourse” through which Mansfield “demonstrates a consciousness about resistance that precedes the founding of the postcolonial state” (1). Thus, the parentheses in (post)colonial of the title indicate that Mansfield straddles a time and space divide between the colonial and postcolonial state—one of many ambivalences that the volume investigates.
Many of these essays draw attention to Mansfield’s consciousness of the position she inhabited, conceptualized through Bhabha’s “third space” and Freud’s Unheimliche—an ambivalence to place heightened by the fact that to become an expatriate from New Zealand she had to return “home” to London, as the white settlers mythologized it. Emmanouil Aretoulakis offers a spatial and chronological sense of the postcolonial through a description of Mansfield’s oscillation between the simulated Britain of New Zealand and the “real” metropolitan Britain. Mansfield was unable or unwilling to fully integrate into both of these places, which allows Aretoulakis to posit her identity and aesthetics as spaces that thrive on impurity, or a synthesis of opposites such as beauty and ugliness, life and death. Also using geographical readings, both Stefanie Rudig and Anne Brown-Berens focus on how Mansfield’s topographies highlight the incongruities in [End Page 212] colonial space. Rudig deftly compares Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Beach at Falesá” and its beach/bush dichotomy (wherein the social space of the beach as a site of white habitation and commerce counterpoises the bush as a metaphor for the untamed primitive) with the Burnell family’s move across Wellington in “Prelude” and Kezia’s subsequent explorations of the garden and its mysterious, non-native aloe plant. Similarly, Brown-Berens draws comparisons with colonial New Zealand novels, like Clara Cheeseman’s A Rolling Stone (1886), to illustrate how Mansfield reimagines colonial tropes, wherein “settler and landscape primitivism implies an incongruity and transitoriness”(120). Mansfield’s “transitoriness” becomes “placelessness” (87) in Emily Ridge’s analysis of Mansfield’s December 1920 review of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence for The Athenaeum. Ridge shows how, through this review, Mansfield continued to explore the metaphorical oppositions between the refined and unkempt features of landscape, personality, gender, and relationships. Todd Martin’s narratological and sociopolitical reading of In a German Pension “unmasks” the first-person narrator to convincingly argue that Mansfield’s narrator, while seeking to fit into the pension community, subversively undermines stereotypical British attitudes towards the Germans. Aimee Gasston’s prize-winning essay, “Katherine Mansfield, Cannibal,” reverses colonialist discourses of cannibalism, to argue that Mansfield’s anticolonial aesthetics of incorporation and satire, especially in “Sunday Lunch,” seek to “destabilize established anatomies of privilege and disrupt dominant metropolitan practices” (20). These readings match Mansfield’s aesthetic choices with the disconnectedness of spaces, equivocal identity, and uneasy habitation of the liminal, which are all strong postcolonial themes.
The book also gives plenty of space to creative engagements with Mansfield, which highlight her vibrant afterlife within New Zealand literature and the scholarly community. Witi Ihimaera’s story “Waiting for La Petite Anglaise,” inspired by the 2012 symposium at Montana-sur-Sierre, Switzerland, is haunted by the...