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Amid the various commemorations of the centenary of the Great War’s commencement this past fall, reminders of artistic and cultural responses to this cataclysmic event proliferated. Thankfully, this cultural moment occasioned the reassessment of many artistic figures and cultural phenomena that heretofore had not been analyzed in such close relation to the war—which brings us to the 2014 addition to EUP’s Katherine Mansfield Studies series: Katherine Mansfield and World War One. Though she seldom writes directly about the war in her fiction (only one story, the posthumously published “An Indiscreet Journey,” includes scenes set in the war zone), a closer scrutiny of the relation between Mansfield and “the key political event of her time” was welcome (1). Mark Gertler’s Futurist-inspired 1916 oil canvas “Merry-Go-Round” serves as the frontispiece for this volume and is an apt visualization of Mansfield’s literary engagement with the war. The sixteen doll-like figures astride the merry-go-round’s white horses, grouped in five trios and an individual, are dressed in various primary-colored military and civilian garb. There is no central pillar supporting Gertler’s amusement ride, yet these figures clearly circulate around the palimpsest of the war, just as Mansfield’s stories from the period recall and reflect the war as an absent center. Her February 1918 letter to John Middleton Murry highlights the way in which Mansfield could not keep this watershed event from seeping into her prose: “I have a horror of the way this war creeps into writing … oozes in—trickles in” (1).
In her introduction to the volume, “Katherine Mansfield, War Writer,” Alice Kelly focuses the collection’s attention on the war’s pervasive effects on this author’s rhetoric and style, and it is in these modes of response to the First World War that a political Mansfield becomes apparent. Collectively these essays “continue to develop our ideas of what constitute war writings” (2), aiming to redress a reluctance to see Mansfield as a First World War writer. For Kelly, and most of the collection’s contributors, this new lens is “key to our understanding of her developing writerly style” (1). The revisionist mode employed here fits these essays within Santanu Das’s conception of “second-wave” war criticism, which is marked by “interdisciplinarity and diversification of concern” (3). The perspectives collected in this volume attest to the various strategies Mansfield uses to repress, include, reconfigure, interrogate, and mold the war in her fiction.
Reassessments of Mansfield’s lived experience of the war form one thematic grouping within the collection. In February 1915, she snuck into the zone des armées at Gray to visit her lover Francis Carco, and from this trip emerged the story “An Indiscreet Journey,” which, according to Vincent O’Sullivan, includes perhaps the first record of the effects of gassing on soldiers. She experienced the zeppelin air raids in Paris in March 1915, as well as the later bombardments there in March and April of 1918. Of course, the seemingly most formative wartime event was the death of her brother Leslie (Chummie) Beauchamp in a training accident on October 6, 1915. J. Lawrence Mitchell superbly details these events and others, contrasting Mansfield’s wartime experience with the level of engagement of her peers. These biographical details counter claims that Mansfield was largely indifferent to the war, and to bolster this argument Mitchell draws attention to the satirical story “Stay-Laces,” which lambasts ignorant and indifferent views of the war within London “society.” David Bradshaw’s detailed reassessment of the relationship between Mansfield and J. W. N. Sullivan fleshes out the complexities and hot-cold nature of their friendship, which began in 1917, when Sullivan returned to London after having suffered a “nervous collapse” while driving ambulances in Serbia (128). As co-editor of The Athenaeum, Sullivan was another link for Mansfield on the London literary scene, while his interests in science [End Page 419] and the occult...