I am very happy that I can offer one of my readers, thanks to the generosity of Joanna FitzPatrick, a free copy of In Pursuit, a brilliant, beautifully written novel based on the life of Katherine Mansfield. If you would like to be entered into the give-a-way please leave a comment or e mail me.
In Pursuit is a novel that is very closely based on the life of Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand). On her web page Ms. FitzPatrick says one day she was in a used book store in the south of France looking for something to read on a flight to New York. She bought a collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories. She was so amazed by what she read that by the end of the flight she knew she wanted to learn much more about the only writer whose talent ever made Virginia Woolf jealous. Here is how Ms. FitzPatrick sums up her reaction to her first encounter with Katherine Mansfield:
"I had to write her story – the story of a woman who managed to cut out a brilliant and creative life for herself with everything working against her; the story of an individual’s powerful determination to surmount the limitations forced upon her by illness. I wanted to tell her story so that others might be as inspired by it as I was".
In the wonderfully done Prelude to In Pursuit FitzPatrick takes a very bold gamble that works brilliantly. She speaks in the voice of Mansfield herself as if she were at age 19 summing up her life so far. I had already done some reading on the life of Katherine Mansfield before reading In Pursuit so I knew she was a very strong determined woman who faced an early death with great courage. From the Prelude of In Pursuit I learned that Mansfield was also her Daddy's little girl. Her father was the chairmen of the board of The Bank of New Zealand. FitzPatrick helped me see beyond the simple stereotypes of her father as a totally dominating business man who wanted his family to run as smoothly as his bank. Katherine's father wanted what was best for Katherine and his other four children. He wanted her to live in New Zealand and marry a man who would care for her. It is possible he was in a way right. Maybe if Mansfield had returned to New Zealand after a few years studying in England she might have avoided tuberculosis, which took her life at 35. Some say she needed to suffer to develop the wisdom to produce her stories.
FitzPatrick helped me understand the relationship of Mansfield to her husband, John Middleton Murry. Murry might not have been the husband Mansfield's father would have wished for her but from In Pursuit we can see maybe he was the only type of man she could accept. No man will ever be as solid or dependable as her father was so she did not look for such a man. As FitzPatrick discretely shows us Mansfield did have a taste for literary bad boys and fey gurus. I would say, and FitzPatrick illustrates this, that Murry was not as bad a husband as most people seem to think. Mansfield felt Murry could understand her deepest feelings and helped deepen her self-awareness and thus increased her artistic depth. FitzPatrick helps us understand the dynamics of the marriage of Mansfield and Murry.
FitzPatrick also shows us how Mansfield treated the one person in her life who perhaps loved her more than anyone else, Ida Baker. Baker and Mansfield met in school in London and Baker fell totally in love with Mansfield and remained enthralled to her for the rest of her life. Mansfield had relationships with women which appear to have been romantic but we do not know what, if any, sexual activities took place between Mansfield and other women. I think there probably was none between Baker and Mansfield. Fitzpatrick does a brilliant job of treating the relationship of Baker and Mansfield. There are unanswered questions here and FitzPatrick is to be respected for not speculating. Baker herself had no interest in men at all of a romantic sort and seemed to have found repulsive the idea of sleeping with a man. It does not appear that Baker and Mansfield ever had any sexual contact but we do not really know. Mansfield treated Ida Baker poorly, using her a free maid and health care worker when she needed her and pushing her away when she did not.
Much of In Pursuit shows how the pursuit of a cure for tuberculosis dominated the last few years of Mansfield's life. FitzPatrick helps us feel Mansfield's suppressed terror when she first sees blood in her handkerchief. There is an inevitable feeling of sadness and futility as we see Mansfield try various cures.
Anyone interested in Katherine Mansfield will greatly enjoy and profit from In Pursuit. We also meet along the way Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, and a host of other famous figures. We learn how people made a living from their writings in the 1910s in London. We come to understand something about the creative process. The eternal Romantic question is did Mansfield need her suffering to produce her art?
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to Mansfield as an artist if she had given in to the wishes of her father and for sure her own wishes a lot of the time and returned to New Zealand forever at age 22. Would a comfortably married Mansfield (in spite of appearances Mansfield did want a conventional secure lasting forever type of marriage) living in a beautiful house on a hill over looking the bay in Auckland have become the greatest female story writer of all time? Mansfield, in spite of her father's money (he gave her a subsistence allowance) never had A Room of Her Own. FitzPatrick helps us understand how the constant movement and insecurity of the last 10 or so years of her life impacted her. We can also feel how the contrast of the great natural beauty of New Zealand and the sheer ugliness of WWI (in which her beloved brother died) took a great toll on Mansfield.
For those wanting to know where to start with Mansfield you might take a look at my post, Getting Started With Katherine Mansfield.
A link to The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project can be found here.
As I read Mansfield's stories I tried to get to know at least a little the person behind them, to see beyond the mask. Joanne FitzPatrick's wonderful novel based on the life of Katherine Mansfield, In Pursuit, has increased my understanding and regard for Mansfield.
In Pursuit is worthy of its subject. I am not sure what more I need to say.
Joanna Fitzpatrick has a very interesting web page in which she explains how she came to write her book and talks about her own life a bit. I recommend her book without reservation. Physically it is a beautiful book.
Be sure and leave a comment or e mail me at rereadinglives (at) gmail.com if you are interested in a winning a free copy of this book. The give-a-way closes Jan 17, 2011. It is open to all internationally.