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Katherine’s Secrets

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 May 2021

Gerri Kimber
Affiliation:
University of Northampton
Todd Martin
Affiliation:
University of Huntington, Indiana
Christine Froula
Affiliation:
Northwestern University, Illinois
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Summary

My God I love to think of you, Virginia, as my friend. […] pray consider how rare it is to find some one with the same passion for writing that you have, who desires to be scrupulously truthful with you – and to give you the freedom of the city without any reserves at all.

Katherine Mansfield to Virginia Woolf

Six months after their first encounter, Katherine tenders Virginia an extravagant offer of deepest, truest friendship: a comradeship of passionate writers, not just sharing life, experience and – ‘how rare’ – their ‘precious art’ but scrupulously truthful: the freedom of the city with nothing kept back – no hidden spaces, locked rooms, dark closets, nothing withheld, doctored, expunged: in a word, no secrets.

But isn't it too late? ‘I have had a slight rapprochement with Katherine Mansfield; who seems to me an unpleasant but forcible and utterly unscrupulous character, in whom I think you might find a “companion”’, Virginia has already told Vanessa Bell. Hardly have they met than there's distance between them. A scruple, like a pebble in the shoe, pains the conscience – knowing together – if one doesn’t, as it were, walk straight. Virginia's teasing suggestion that utterly unscrupulous Katherine might be a suitable companion for her sister softens the bite of her dashed-off impression, and her comic vision of these crooked characters in league may be an apotropaic gesture against their forming a closer alliance than hers with each of them.

But why does Virginia paint Katherine as unscrupulous, even in fun? And why does Katherine stipulate scrupulous truthfulness as the bedrock of the friendship she proposes? Is it something she hopes for from Virginia? ‘Dont cry me an ardent creature or say, with your head a little on one side as though you knew some enchanting secret: “Well, Katherine, we shall see”’, she coaxes in the same letter (epigraph, my emphasis). Katherine's mid-August visit to Asheham gives them ‘good […] time to talk’, but Virginia's head must remain tilted, for, thanking her, Katherine adds, ‘don't let THEM ever persuade you that I spend any of my precious time swapping hats or committing adultery – I’m far too arrogant & proud’.

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Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2018

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