Katherine Mansfield’s short life (1888–1923) has had a long tangled biographical history, starting with the ambiguous instructions she left for her husband and literary executor, John Middleton Murry. In a letter written a few months before she died, she told him to do what he liked with all her manuscripts, to keep whatever he wished and destroy the rest. But she went on to remind him of her “love of tidiness” and to hope for “a clean sweep [that would] leave all fair.” Then in her formal will, drawn up just a week later, she asked him point blank to “publish as little as possible and to tear up and burn as much as possible”—this, she explained, because she wanted to remove all the “traces” of her “camping ground.”

Katherine Mansfield must have known that Murry would find it virtually impossible to carry out these last...


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