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Katherine Mansfield


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Claire Tomalin was literary editor of the New Statesman then the Sunday Times before leaving to become a full-time writer. Her first book, The Life and Death of Mary Wollstonecraft, won the Whitbread First Book Award, and she has since written a number of highly acclaimed and bestselling biographies. They include Jane Austen: A Life, The Invisible Woman, a definitive account of Dickens' relationship with the actress Ellen Ternan, which won three major literary awards, and Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self was Whitbread Book of the Year in 2002. In the highly acclaimed Charles Dickens: A Life, she presents a full-scale biography of our greatest novelist. She is married to the writer Michael Frayn.


This is a highly readable portrait of the writer whose life and work figure so insistently as a sort of shadow accompaniment to the larger achievements of Lawrence and Woolf. Benefiting from previous Mansfield scholarship, Tomalin looks closely into Mansfields's medical history, finding what she believes to be a crucial exposure to gonorrhea in 1909 as the forerunner and probable cause of the various debilitating ailments that led to her death 13 years later. Without attempting a definitive literary evaluation or biography, Tomalin focuses sharply and sympathetically on the specific personality that defines both the life and the workbrave, bold, secretive, fearful, quixotically volatile, and ultimately possessed by an almost perverse integrity. Earl Rovit, City Coll., CUNY

British biographer Tomalin (Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft) here reinterprets the life and career of the great New Zealand-born short story writer and her relationships with family and friends. Writing from a perspective different from that of previous biographers Antony Alpers and Jeffrey Meyers, and allowed to examine letters not available to them, she is less sympathetic than they to John Middleton Murry and more appreciative of D. H. Lawrence's importance to Mansfield. She adds new dimensions to the pictures of Mansfield's connections with her friend Edith Bendall, her ``faithful wife'' Ida Constance Baker and Virginia Woolf. ``None of her sexual relations with men appears to have given her happiness or even satisfaction,'' and, in her affairs with women, she did ``the courting, the letter-writing and the jilting.'' Tomalin also suggests that Mansfield's many illnesses and perhaps her death, in 1923 at age 34, from TB, were attributable to the gonorrhea she contracted from Floryan Sobieniowski in 1909. Photos. (March)

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