Katherine Mansfield once declared, "I shall not be fashionable long" but, nearly 100 years after her death, the Wellington-born and raised writer is revered. In her teens, Mansfield spent four years in England and, returning "home" in 1906, could hardly wait to leave again. Recognised from an early age as a talented writer, Mansfield – then Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp – had short stories published in Australia in 1907 under the name K Mansfield. The following year, her father allowed her to return to England.
Her life was a bohemian one, befriending writers like D.H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf and, as a modern woman, becoming embroiled in fraught relationships. Pregnant to one man, she married another but left him on the evening of their wedding and, later that year was sent by her mother, Annie, to Bavaria in Germany. She spent six months there, made a lifelong friend of Beatrice Hastings and used the experience, including losing her unborn baby, for the basis of her first published collection, In a German Pension.
In 1911, Mansfield, back in the UK, met John Middleton Murry, editor of the arts journal Rhythm. They split up, reunited and married. Both wrote and frequently made little money from their endeavours.
When World War I broke out, Mansfield's beloved brother, Leslie, was killed in action. A grief-stricken Mansfield was also dealing with illness. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, she sought many forms of treatment – none successful – while continuing to write. She died, aged just 34, in Fontainebleau, France, and willed her manuscripts, notebooks and letters to Murry, who published many which assisted the growth of Mansfield's formidable reputation.
Writers are encouraged to write about they know, so Mansfield's stories were of women making their way in a fast-changing world, navigating gender and class boundaries and dealing with the contradictions of modern life. Having spent most of her life away from New Zealand, she did not gain recognition here until the 1950s notably with the 1959 establishment of the Katherine Mansfield Memorial Awards. Her writing is now firmly seen as part of our cultural history, challenging ideas about what New Zealand writing is and can be.