Journal entry October 14th 1922.
My spirit is nearly dead. My spring of life is so starved that it’s just not dry. Nearly all my improved health is pretense – acting. What does it amount to? Can I walk? Only creep. Can I do anything with my hands or body? Nothing at all, I am absolutely hopelessly invalid. What is my life? It is the existence of a parasite. And five years have passed now, and I am in straiter bonds than ever.
Therefore if the Grand Lama of Tibet promised to help you – how can you hesitate? Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth. True, Chekhov didn’t. Yes, but Chekhov died. And let us be honest. How much do we know of Chekhov from his letters? Was that all? Of course not. Don’t you suppose he had a whole longing life of which there is hardly a word? Then read the final letters. He has given up hope. If you de-sentimentalise those final letters they are terrible. There is no more Chekhov. Illness has swallowed him. But perhaps to people who are not ill, all this is nonsense. They have never travelled this road. How can they see where I am? All the more reason to go boldly forward alone. Life is not simple. In spite of all we say about the mystery of Life when we get down to it we want to treat it as though it were a child’s tale…. Now Katherine, what do you mean by health ?And what do you want it for? Answer: By health I mean the power to live a full, adult, living, breathing life in close contact with what I love – the earth and the wonders thereof – the sea – the sun. All that we mean when we speak of the external world. I want to enter into it, to be a part of it, to live in it. to learn from it, to lose all that is superficial and acquired in me and to become a conscious, direct human being, I want by understanding myself, to understand others, I want to be al that I am capable of becoming so that I may be( and here I have stopped and waited and waited and it’s no good – there’s only one phrase that will do) a child of the sun. About helping others m about carrying a light and so on it seems false to say a single word. Let it he that. A child of the sun. Then I want to work. At what? I want to live that I work with my hands and my feeling and my brain. I want a garden,a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music. And out of this the expression of this, I want to be writing. (Though I may write about cabmen. That’s no matter.) But warm, eager, living life – to be rooted in life – to learn, to desire to know, to feel, to think, to act. That is what I want. And nothing less. That is what I must try for.
These two journal entries, written on what was to be Mansfield’s 34th birthday, and her last, encapsulate her whole
life. She begins by acknowledging her low spirits, her feeling of utter debilitation. Then she seems to pull herself together and reach deep within herself for the sense of resolution which is the only thing that she knows can keep her alive. She defines her needs, and itemises them, and the list which seems so small and modest, is in fact enormous, extensive, and world-encompassing. It would seem by defining and enumerating that she is taking a stand. This is her manifesto – it contains all her hopes, her loves, and aspirations. It also contains her fears. The word for her illness – consumption or t.b – is conspicuously absent – and she speaks only of Cheknov having it, never mentioning herself. The fear of being devoured by this illness is crushingly real, because the illness itself was crushingly real, and had dominated her life for several years. Katherine must have known she was dying, and yet, she would not allow herself to acknowledge that fact. She desperately wants to face the truth, and she desperately wants to live, but if she does one she feels that she cannot do the other. Mansfield was breathtakingly close to death. she would only live another eleven weeks. During that late fall and winter in Fontainbleau, in her cold, and frequently unheated little room, (in “…the workers quarters…. bare boards – a scrubbed table for the jug and basin etc…. windows… icy cold”) the sun and its warmth had been withdrawn from her. When she had her fatal lung haemorrhage on the night of January 9th, and mere moments before her death, her feckless husband John Middleton Murray was shooed out of the room by the doctors who had been hurriedly summoned to her side. Murry who was living in England at the time, had neglected his wife and failed throughout his marriage to support her, either emotionally or financially. He had been sent for when it became apparent that her health was in a steep decline. After Mansfield’s death, Murry recalled, when he had been asked by the two attending doctors to leave the room, Mansfield’s eyes implored him not to leave:
But he obeyed the doctors and left the room.
Now it is Loneliness who comes at night
Instead of Sleep, to sit beside my bed.
Like a tired child I lie and wait her tread,
I watch her softly blowing out the light.
Motionless sitting, neither left or right
She turns, and weary, weary droops her head.
She, too, is old; she, too, has fought the fight
Through the sad dark the slowly ebbing tide
Breaks on a barren shore, unsatisfied.
A strange wind flows… then silence. I am fain
To turn to Loneliness, to take her hand,
Cling to her, waiting, till the barren land
Fills with the dreadful monotone of rain .