One useful, one not, Heather Murray

The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield
Jan Pilditch (ed)
Greenwood Press, United States, $55
ISBN 0 313 290644

Katherine Mansfield: A “Do You Remember” Life, Four Stories with an Illustrated Introduction
Gillian Boddy
Victoria University Press with the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society $19.95
ISBN 0 86473 297x

It is hard to imagine who is going to find much that is useful in The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield. Academic collections of critical approaches to major writers constitute a world-wide buoyant industry and they look set to carry on until the supply of writers seizes up. Easy pickings for publishers, too. For students such volumes do provide short-cuts and that is no bad thing, provided the skill of the editor in choosing a representative group of essays or extracts but, more important, in providing up-to-the-minute selections of the latest in scholarly trends is impeccable.

The publisher probably calculates that if every university library and major public library in the world buys a copy, then all his/her worries are over. Selling in the United States at $55, and in Britain at £49.50, this book does not come cheap. New Zealand libraries will already have the excerpts in their original published form and might spend their money more profitably.

The collection is idiosyncratic, unrepresentative, and out of date, gathered together by a New Zealand academic editor who is not well-known in Mansfield scholarship. Since the centenary of Mansfield’s birth in 1988, which was celebrated in Wellington by an international conference of scholars and readers, there has been a huge increase in the volume of critical writing on Mansfield, but you would not guess it from this collection. There is very little chosen from the last 10 years and nothing that was subsequently published from the Wellington Mansfield conference. Important re-interpretations of Mansfield resulting from the work of feminist, deconstructionist and postcolonial scholars are overlooked.

Gillian Boddy worked with the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society to produce a little book which might usefully be sold in Mansfield’s house at 25 Tinakori Road, Wellington, and the result is an attractive volume, presenting a compact introduction to Mansfield and an excellent display of the craft of fine book production in New Zealand.

No one need cringe about this souvenir. It takes a great deal of skill to write an introduction to a complex woman and her art in 56 pages but Boddy does it with flair. Some lovely photos and four Mansfield stories, all set in Wellington: the lesser known “A Birthday” and “The Wind Blows” and the two great Burnell pieces, “Prelude” and “The Doll’s House”. Since postage is a major consideration in sending books overseas, gift-buyers might consider this volume which weighs well under 200g.

Heather Murray is a literary researcher and critic.

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