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The Montana Stories
ISBN: 1 903155 150

By Katherine Mansfield
Review by: Moira Richards

06/06/05

Have you discovered yet, the UK publisher, Persephone Books? If not, you’ve a treasure-trove waiting to be explored – a catalogue of fifty-six books to date, another two published each quarter of, “forgotten classics by twentieth-century (mostly women) writers” and each one a gem. The Montana Stories is No. 25 on their list and it is a collection of the two-dozen or so short stories that Katherine Mansfield completed (or sometimes, not) during a long stay in Switzerland shortly before her death from tuberculosis in her early thirties.

Some of these she wrote for magazines to pay the rent, others are fragments in which she seemed to explore an idea and then lose interest sufficient to finish it. Many of the tales are illuminated by the extracts included in the collection, from her journals and letters in which she reflects on her work and on the process of writing. Together, all these bits collage to create an intimate and touching portrait of an invalid yet brave writer at work.

You can read in this volume the slyly perceptive "A Cup of Tea" and then turn to Mansfield’s journal to share her elation at having written and finished it in “about 4-5 hours”. Or share her feelings in her letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell about some of the stories (“I don’t think they’re much good”) that she wrote for a particular market “because it pays better than any other paper I know.” Bu read then, the delightful portrayals of life in "Sixpence" or in "Mr and Mrs Dove" and see for yourself how harsh a critic she was of her own work.

I found this book an absorbing introduction to a woman whose work I had not read before, and whom I had known only by the intriguing tribute that Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary a few days after Mansfield’s death. Woolf’s words were, “I was jealous of her writing – the only writing I have ever been jealous of.”

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