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Katherine Mansfield: From Bandol to Menton
The New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield came to Bandol in 1915, grieving the death of her brother on the Western Front. The Villa Pauline, where she wrote Prelude, still stands, overlooking the Renecros beach. Like her friend D. H. Lawrence a decade later, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was to haemorrhage her way along the entire length of the Côte d’Azur.
She had left Wellington for London at the age of 19 with the aim of becoming a professional musician, but the nearest she came to achieving her musical goal was a hasty and brief marriage to her music teacher, George Bowden. The objective was solely to avoid being in a state of unmarried pregnancy when her bourgeois parents arrived from New Zealand, and as soon as their ship sailed for home, she left Bowden and sold her cello.
Sadly, her pregnancy miscarried and her pretence at respectability misfired: her mother, shocked by Katherine’s bohemian lifestyle, cut her out of her will.
Mansfield’s writing success began with her acceptance by the literary magazine, Rhythm. Her later marriage to its editor, John Middleton Murry, although punctuated by mutual infidelities, lasted for the rest of her life.
She reached Menton in January 1920. There, on a leafy hillside in the Garavan quarter, within coughing distance of the Italian border, she discovered the Villa Isola Bella, where, despite her illness, she enjoyed one of her most productive periods, publishing collections of short stories, book reviews, articles, and translations. She also found contentment, and wrote that, when she died, ‘You will find ISOLA BELLA in poker work on my heart.’
Late in 1922, Mansfield went for a course to the pretentiously-titled Institute for the Harmonious Development of the Mind, in an old monastery at Fontainebleau, near Paris, but apparently the northern winter did not harmonise with her body, and she died there of tuberculosis in January, 1923, aged 34.
Her gravestone in a nearby village bears the quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry IV that she chose as the epigraph for the book of stories that she completed in Menton: ‘Out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety’.
The name of the village, appropriately, is Avon.