Scholar claims discovery of NZ writer Katherine Mansfield lost works

A New Zealand scholar believes he has unearthed three long-forgotten works by celebrated New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, which have been lost to the world for more than a century.

The stunning finds include a short story published in a US magazine in 1909, a poem published in a UK magazine the same year, and a letter published in a London music journal in 1906.

Waikato music teacher Dr Martin Griffiths told the Herald he was certain the three pieces were Mansfield’s work and described the discovery as a “once in a 50-year find”.

“I’m convinced. It’s so unlikely it could be anyone else.”

Other experts spoken to by the Herald believe at least two of the works are likely to have been penned by the celebrated modernist short story writer, saying the discoveries will build on Mansfield’s known catalogue of work and provide important insight into her development as an acclaimed international writer.

In 2020, Griffiths stumbled across a vague reference to a short story titled The Chorus Girl and the Tariff in an old American newspaper while trawling through

It led him to a 1909 edition of a magazine called National Monthly published by Democrat politician Norman E. Mack in Buffalo, New York.

In it was the story bylined “Katherine Mansfield”.

The story is a monologue – a style often used in Mansfield’s later works – about a down-on-her-luck Broadway chorus actress.

Griffiths said he had no doubt it was written by the Wellington-born literary giant and had been lost for 111 years.

Though the story uses American slang and popular references, Griffiths claims much of the vocabulary is found in other Mansfield works.

She had worked briefly as a chorus girl about the time the story was published while living in Britain, regularly read American magazines and was friends with American entertainers and celebrities.

Griffiths says one of them – pianist Teresa Carreno – performed in Buffalo just weeks after the story’s publication and could have taken it back to the US from London at Mansfield’s request.

Mansfield – who died of tuberculosis in France in 1923 – was also known to have submitted literary work for publication to various overseas journals and newspapers before she became famous, Griffiths said.

“A young writer is going to experiment and try different styles. I think she’s trying on different hats and using different people’s voices.

“She was always wanting to break into America but she never did until just before she died. This is evidence she was trying.

“It’s a shame that I can’t prove it, but there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence.”

Griffiths wrote a paper about his discovery, which has just been published alongside the short story in respected Edinburgh University Press journal Katherine Mansfield Studies.

Meanwhile, Griffiths has also recently uncovered a poem and letter that are also thought to be long-forgotten works by the Kiwi writer.

Last year he came across a letter in a London music journal dating from February 1906 discussing famous cellos. It was signed “KMB”, which Griffiths believes is short for Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp – her original name.

As well as being a writer, Mansfield was a talented musician and cello player.

Katherine Mansfield House and Garden director Cherie Jacobson said it was “quite possible” the letter was written by Mansfield, given she knew other contributors to the magazine and had been a passionate cellist since she was a teenager.

“It’s always interesting to find out more about Mansfield and to discover more of her writing and words. Because she lived such a short life, dying tragically at the age of 34, there is a limited amount of material.”

Griffiths’ final discovery was made in November when he bought the July 1909 edition of London magazine The Cremona from an online British book dealer.

It contained a poem titled Praeludium Chopins written by “K. Mansfield”.

Victoria University English literature Professor Jane Stafford has viewed the poem and is certain it was penned by the New Zealander.

Stafford said the new poem was a revised version of an earlier unpublished work found in one of Mansfield’s 1908 handwritten notebooks. The latter had been documented by Edinburgh University Press as part of her complete works.

The new discovery was very similar.

“I think she’s rearranged the lines a little bit. It’s more or less exactly what’s written in her notebook.”

Mansfield would often scribble work in her notebooks before sending final versions to review journals in New Zealand or overseas, Stafford said.

The new poem was also written about the time Mansfield moved to Britain.

“From the time she was a teenager in Wellington she was publishing in newspapers and journals and sending things wider afield,” Stafford said.

“She was a very professional writer with a strong sense of what was needed to be a successful writer.

“There was a huge newspaper and literary journal market. There were a lot of places you could send things off to.”

Stafford said it was interesting to see that Mansfield, who had considered becoming a professional musician, was submitting work to music magazines in the early 1900s.

“It reminds us of that side of her musical expertise.”

The discoveries are not the first Katherine Mansfield works believed to have been unearthed in recent years.

In 2019, Griffiths discovered another short story titled The Thawing of Anthony Wynscombe, in a 1910 edition of Sydney newspaper The Star. It was bylined “Katherine R. Mansfield”.

Griffiths and Stafford believe it is another previously undocumented work, though efforts to verify its legitimacy using linguistics software to analyse the writer’s use of words were unsuccessful because of a lack of data, Griffiths said.

Another previously undocumented short story by Mansfield was discovered in 2012 by PhD student Chris Mourant in the King’s College London archives.

And although the three latest discoveries will have no monetary value – they are not in manuscript and were printed in magazines – Griffiths believes they are hugely significant.

He said there were gaps in our knowledge of Mansfield, particularly during a traumatic period of her life from 1908-10 when she was out of work, suffered a relationship break-up, miscarried a child and burned her diaries.

The newly discovered work helped us fill in those gaps and understand Mansfield’s development as a writer.

“I think there’s more out there so I’m going to keep looking.”

An article about Griffith’s new discoveries is currently being peer reviewed and is due to appear this year in the Turnbull Library Record.

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