Katherine Mansfield Society Annual Birthday Lecture


Saturday 15 October 2016, 2pm


Court Room, Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London

This post was kindly written by Gerri Kimber of the Katherine Mansfield Society.

Every year on the weekend nearest to 14 October – Katherine Mansfield’s birthday – the Katherine Mansfield Society runs its annual Birthday Lecture, celebrating the life and work of this iconic New Zealand modernist short story writer.  Past participants have included Patron of the Society, Professor Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Emeritus Professor Angela Smith, actor Susannah Harker, Professor David Bradshaw, Professor Laura Marcus, Dame Margaret Drabble, authors Ali Smith and Salley Vickers, Professor Kirsty Gunn, Professor Susan Sellers, and Emeritus Professor C. K. Stead.

This year’s birthday lecture, in the presence of our Patron, Professor Dame Jacqueline Wilson, will be in the form of a dialogue between words and music, as cellist Joseph Spooner and Professor Claire Davison explore the musical setting and musical imagination of Katherine Mansfield during the years of her literary apprenticeship.


As so many of Mansfield’s biographers are keen to point out, Mansfield was an impassioned student of the cello before she moved towards literary creation, notably studying with the New Zealand composer Thomas Trowell. His sons, Arnold – a cellist acknowledged as a prodigy from childhood – and Garnet, a violinist, were two of KM’s first passionately romantic attachments. Her family’s social circles brought her into close contact with a number of prestigious concert performers from New Zealand, Europe and the United States, making her musical environment during her formative years rich indeed. But what music did she enjoy, and what impact might this have had on her literary apprenticeship? Could the exciting new pulse and rhythms of the music around her have worked their way into her early prose poems as well as providing the themes and setting for many of her later stories? What are we to make of the decidedly fin-de-siècle musical tastes reflected in her early diaries and notebooks? Can we trace interactions of modern music and symbolist literature in her works in the way that we can identify influences of impressionism and post-impressionism, or early cinematography? These are the questions the 2016 Birthday Lecture will be setting out to address. The focus will be mainly on the close connection between Mansfield’s early poetics and the experimental brevity of preludes, nocturnes and rhapsodies, many of which were being heard in London for the first time on or about the year 1910. Musical sketches and pictures by composers such as Chopin, Macdowell and Trowell provide a rich soundscape within which to explore Mansfield’s rhapsodic tone-poems, revealing her almost uncanny ability to sound the note of her times, as symbolism and decadence gave way to more resolutely modern resonances.


The Birthday Lecture will be followed by wine and refreshments, including birthday cup cakes. There will then be a double book launch by Edinburgh University Press:


Katherine Mansfield: The Early Years, by Gerri Kimber is the first biography to look at Mansfield’s early life in any depth since 1933. Focussing on the first twenty years of Mansfield’s life, from her birth in 1888 to her final departure from New Zealand in 1908, this biography reveals the importance of Mansfield’s childhood and teenage years to her development as a writer, and offers insights into her New Zealand stories.


The Collected Poems of Katherine Mansfield, edited by Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison, is the first complete edition of Katherine Mansfield’s poetry ever published. The edition is made up of 217 poems, ordered chronologically, so that the reader can follow Mansfield’s development as a poet and her experiments with different forms, as well as trace the themes such as love and death, the natural world and the seasons, childhood and friendship, music and song, which preoccupied her throughout her writing life.


Both Gerri Kimber and Claire Davison will be available to sign copies of the books, which will be offered at a special discount launch price on the day.