‘I loved Rhodesia and the lazy yet vibrant life of the untouched land with its few people and miles and miles of peace. In the moonlight the plantations of eucalyptus trees shone like still moonstones: in the early dawn the tall grasses swayed in the light breeze, heavy with dewdrops, till suddenly the sun rose and in one half hour the world was once more a hard, dry gold. Then, dotted all over the fields, fine spirals of blue smoke began to curl up from the fires of early workers, while across the wide valley soft, white blankets of cloud rolled up and toppled over the slopes in a hurry to get down to the river before the hot sun licked them up.’
The passage is from LM, as Ida Baker, Katherine Mansfield’s devoted friend and helpmate, was known. The year is 1916. In Europe ‘the ghastly war raged’. LM was returning to Europe from her father’s place in Africa.
In light of what’s happening in present day Zimbabwe it reads sadly. But as I read it in quotation in Kathleen Jones’s biography of Mansfield the thought struck me that Ida Baker was not to be lightly dismissed.
So the life finished I took ‘Katherine Mansfield: The Memories of LM’ off the shelf to reread. I see I gave the book to Anne for her birthday in 1986. Fourteen years ago, two houses back for us. I’d read it at the time. But since then I’ve read a lot more about Mansfield including her journals and letters.
I read it this time with the benefit of just completing the Jones. She has used LM’s memories judiciously and sensitively. I’m no expert but it seems to me as biographer she places this relationship in a fair and accurate context. LM’s account is guarded and cautious. But she was there for Katherine’s two early pregnancies, unwise marriage, and towards the end as the writer’s health deteriorated as menial support.
LM made many perceptive comments about Mansfield. Here’s one which I think is a good description. ‘She was both a creator and an extrovert. She looked at life and saw it; then she took it into herself and created.’
The letters from Katherine to her friend reveal an interesting relationship. It was based on devotion and trust rather than equality. LM knew her place. Her prime loyalty was to her friend. I’m pleased to have read her memories again – this time with much greater understanding – and am grateful for her dedication. It helped Katherine to create and survive as long as she did.