Her works of fiction are etched in the literary canon. Now, the Alexander Turnbull Library has six boxes of documents - many never seen publicly before - telling the story behind Katherine Mansfield.
Correspondence with literary giants, family photographs, her passport, and a letter telling a princess to back off from her husband are included in the boxes which once belonged to her husband, John Middleton Murry.
There are also hand-written recipes for orange souffle and cold water scones.
"The richness, variety and the range of the material not only reveals so much personal information about her but contextualises her both socially and in terms of her literary world," Turnbull published collections curator Fiona Oliver said.
The Turnbull already has the world's largest Mansfield collection, including most of her notebooks and letters. This acquisition is believed to be the last significant Mansfield collection still in private hands.
The boxes had been with Middleton Murry's family until a Mansfield biographer alerted the Wellington library to them a few years ago.
After more than two years of negotiations and the payment of an undisclosed sum, they were couriered to the library last week.
Manuscripts curator David Colquhoun said if the collection was broken up and sold on the private market it would be worth "hundreds of thousands of dollars".
"The family had the opportunity to do that but did want to keep it together."
The documents were certain to stir excitement among Mansfield scholars.
"It really adds to the Turnbull's world famous collection of Mansfield material."
Mansfield had a stillborn baby when she was about 20 and, in grief, destroyed most notebooks and letters from that period.
However, a never-sent letter to the violinist father of her stillborn baby, Garnet Trowell, has emerged. It was written in Germany in 1909, the same year as the tragedy.
The famous Bloomsbury literary group, spearheaded by Virginia Woolf, took a punt on its first outside-group writer, publishing Mansfield's Prelude in July 1918.
Woolf's own signed copy is part of the collection.
"Virginia Woolf famously said that Katherine's was the only writing she'd ever been jealous of," Dr Oliver said.
The photo on the 1919 passport shows a gaunt, tuberculosis-ravaged Mansfield. Customs stamps show her frantic movements around Europe as she tried for a cure.
"She was always moving, trying to get better."
Bills from a Cornwall hotel show how much milk she was drinking on doctors' orders.
The documents will be available for researchers in about two months.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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