Claire Hanson, Gerri Kimber and Todd Martin (eds), Katherine Mansfield and Psychology (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press 2016) 224 pp. £70 PDF, EPub, £70 Hb. ISBN: 9781474417532
Katherine Mansfield and Psychology explores the pre-Freudian psychological beliefs that influenced Mansfield’s writing while simultaneously engaging in retrospective readings with relation to post-Freudian theorists including Melanie Klein, Jacques Lacan and Maud Ellmann to demonstrate how her work integrates with multiple psychoanalytical perspectives. Despite the title of the book, the essays presented here concern themselves more with psychoanalysis, a distinction made early in the Introduction by Hansen. Psychoanalysis, as it was understood before World War II, engaged with ideas of interiority, subjectivity, individuality and memory; in this iteration, the themes of psychoanalysis are fully emblematic of, and entwined with the thematic affinities of modernist literature. Additionally, much of Mansfield’s awareness of the subjects of gender, genre and consciousness come from nineteenth century writers like Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde, to whom she repeatedly alludes in her notebooks. It is for this reason that Mansfield’s understanding of psychoanalysis, in particular her ideas surrounding the unconscious mind, come from a variety of different sources, some more reputable than others, but they all work towards fulfilling Mansfield’s desire, which was to understand the role of the self as an individual and in relation to others. From an academic perspective, this is also a study of the role of psychoanalysis in the creation of literature, as well as a means of understanding it.
The first essay by Polly Dickson is the winner of the Katherine Mansfield Society essay prize and explores ideas of hunger and desire in 'Bliss', and 'A Cup of Tea'. The narrative in 'Bliss' offers up the possibility of fulfilling Bertha’s desire while simultaneously impeding it. There is a negotiation taking place throughout the text as Bertha works to uncover her true self, which is demonstrated by teasing an articulation of her appetite, before obstructing it. Dickson uses queer phenomenology to illustrate the disorienting and unsettling representations of domestic space, and by extension the female body. She discovers a similar pattern in 'A Cup of Tea' where the protagonist develops an affinity to another woman, queering the relationship between her internal self and the world, though such suggestions are withdrawn almost as soon as they are presented, likely due to the constraints placed by the existing heterosexual order.
Hanson’s essay on the vitalist psychology of Henri Bergson and William James explores how their work moulded Mansfield’s understanding of the volatility and multiplicity of the self. The essay is a study of the aesthetic implications of vitalist psychology in Mansfield’s writing and in her own understanding of what it means to be an artist. Contrary to the Jungian principles of the time, Mansfield echoes Bergson’s sentiments of the self being situational, responsive to the unpredictable environment which we inhabit. Carrying on from this supposition is Maurizio Ascari’s essay which delves into M B Oxon’s Cosmic Anatomy. Addressing her struggles with chronic illness and how they compelled Mansfield to face her own interiority, Ascari argues that it was the holistic understanding of the self that Mansfield was taken with. In a final examination of Mansfield’s interactions with early twentieth-century ideas of psychoanalysis, Meghan Marie Hammond reads Mansfield’s fascination with the depths of consciousness and emotion. In particular, she focuses on Mansfield’s acknowledgement of the cognitive and emotional upheaval that children experience as a result of bodily changes in her tale 'The Child-Who-Was-Tired'.
Moving on to psychoanalytic readings of Mansfield’s writing, Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze looks to understand the psychological complexities in 'The Garden Party'. Using Lacanian theory to explore the simultaneous intimacy and estrangement between the middle and working class, she posits that the Sheridans are viewing the working class with an internalised otherness, suggesting that a resolution between the classes, at least in the context of this story, cannot be sustained. Combining theories of liminality with Freud’s model of the self, Louise Edensor argues that the transitional spaces of adolescence is where the barrier between ones inner and outer selves collide. She uses 'Vignette: Summer in Winter' and 'The Education of Audrey' to reflect Mansfield’s own concerns surrounding the failure to realise ones true, harmonious self. Continuing with Lacanian analysis is Allan Pero’s reading of 'Bliss'. This is a study of opposition, both in Mansfield’s artistic endeavours as he examines the split between an ego and subject driven writing practices, and in the distinction between masculine and feminine enjoyment as it relates to Bertha’s character in 'Bliss'. Avishek Parui’s concluding essay is an intersectional study on the crisis of masculinity and post-war mourning in 'The Fly'. Using Pierre Janet’s distinction between traumatic and narrative memory, as well as his understanding of the hysterical subject, Parui highlights a paradigm shift in the ritual of preserving memory during the post-war period. Dramatising the struggle of narrative memory against the urge to forget traumatic events, 'The Fly' also acts as a critique of hubris with Parui concluding with the assertion that the boss’s failure to assert his masculinity and reclaim his narrative memory is a direct result of his inability to properly mourn his son.
The creative pieces in the book include Paula Morris’ reworking of 'The Garden Party', Nina Powles’ poetic reflections on Mansfield’s biography and a non-fictional reflection by Eve Lacey. Working at the Katherine Mansfield archive where much of her unpublished work resides, Lacey writes about Mansfield’s publication history, the legacy preserved in her unfinished works, and the sense that the archive has taken on a life of its own, with time being the one constant curator.
The penultimate section, 'Critical Miscellany', opens with two pieces on the same subject – the recovery of a portrait by J D Ferguson suggested to represent Mansfield. Angela Smith disputes this view, suggesting that the painting, named 'Poise', better resembles Katherine Dillon, a dancer who worked with Ferguson’s partner. While Smith understands Mansfield’s comments on the portrait to resemble those of a friendly critic, the following piece by Rachel Boyd Hall argues that Mansfield’s passionate response to Ferguson’s art, her accounts for having sat for him, and his derivative style of painting make it highly probable that 'Poise' is a portrait of Mansfield. Bronwen Fetters observes the ways in which Mansfield uses gendered colours in 'The Little Governess' to highlight the distinct polarity of male and female spaces, while suggesting the need for a spectrum between a world divided by blue and pink, where women have the security to roam freely without fear of persecution. Setara Pracha’s comparative study of Daphne du Maurier’s The Apple Tree, alongside Mansfield’s 'Bliss' looks at the ways in which the symbolic role of fruit allows the authors to modernise myth.
A review essay by Todd Martin concludes the book, revisiting the central theme of psychology in Mansfield’s work. He explores the role of psychology in understanding the self as an individual, as well as our relationship to others. He also examines continental receptions to Mansfield, the dangers of mistranslations, both deliberate and accidental, and the importance of Anna Plumridge’s new edition of The Urewera Notebook.
Katherine Mansfield and Psychology is an extensive study into the works of an author whose struggles with isolation and exile have yielded texts that help enrich our understanding of the self and the importance of our relationship with others. It emphasises her exhaustive engagement with past and present theories of psychology and psychoanalysis, and demonstrates their contributions to her personal and artistic development.
Huzan Bharucha, University of Edinburgh