Katherine Mansfield

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Virginia Woolf

Katherine’s friendship with Virginia Woolf was an extraordinary blend of intimacy, rivalry and mutual admiration. Artistically, they were intimates. Culturally they were hemispheres apart.

Virginia Stephens was born into the inner circle of London intelligentsia. She taught herself to write in her father’s library and remembered George Eliot and Henry James visiting when she was a child. Like Katherine she was also a precise recorder of her inner world. Unlike Katherine, she retreated from the outer world.

If the intensity of her novel writing left her fragile, Virginias sense of class was robust. On meeting Katherine, she wrote: “I’m a little shocked at her commonness at first sight. However, when this diminishes, she is so intelligent and inscrutable that she repays friendship.”

Stylistically, the influence of Katherine’s writing was profound. Virginia wrote: “You seem to me to go so straightly and directly – all clear as glass – refined, spiritual…” After Katherine’s death she confided to her diary it was: “the only writing I have ever been jealous of.”

 

For her part Katherine reciprocated: “My God I love to think of you, Virginia, as my friend. Don't cry me an ardent creature or say, with your head a little on one side, smiling as though you knew some enchanting secret: Well Katherine, we shall see...  But 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.”

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