Expert unveils newly discovered Mansfield work

Last updated 12:46 13/02/2013
Gerri Kimber
HIDDEN TREASURE: Dr Gerri Kimber has uncovered a previously unknown story and other papers by Katherine Mansfield.

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A previously unknown erotic story by Katherine Mansfield, based on a ''scandalous'' play, has been uncovered in Wellington.

The complete work was produced during a dark period in the famed New Zealand author's life, leading Mansfield scholar Dr Gerri Kimber said.

It was likely written around the end of 1910 or start of 1911, she said.

''We know very little about Mansfield's life at this time - these are...hashish smoking, bisexual, drug-taking dark days, nearly all signs of which she obliterated,'' he said.

The story was called Sumurun: An Impression of Leopoldine Konstantin, Dr Kimber said.

"Mansfield must have seen Max Reinhardt's silent play Sumurûn, based on a story from the Arabian Nights, which played to packed houses at the London Coliseum theatre for six weeks from January 1911, with the Austrian actress Leopoldine Konstantin in the title role. Date-wise, this is perfect. So I think this piece is a creative impression - as the title says - of the play that she saw."

The work was found among papers recently acquired by the Turnbull Library from the estate of Mansfield's husband, John Middleton Murry.

''There are dark images and even darker themes in the piece itself, which is probably why Murry never published it in any of his posthumous publications of Mansfield's work. Open eroticism was the reason for the play's success as well as its scandalous reputation.''

Other works found by Dr Kimber included nine poems, fragments of a number of stories, confirmation of a previously doubtfully attributed parody and over a dozen new notebook entries.

A spokesman for the Department of Internal Affairs, which is responsible for the National Library, said the story was "obviously an immensely important find" and had created much excitement at the library.

Mansfield died of tuberculosis in 1923. She remains one of New Zealand's best-known authors for her short stories, such as The Garden Party and The Fly.

She grew up in Wellington, but left New Zealand to pursue her literary career in Britain.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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