24 Mar 2017

Bid to repatriate Mansfield remains 'ghoulish'

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:15 pm on 24 March 2017

A bid to repatriate Katherine Mansfield's remains to her Wellington birthplace has been labelled as ghoulish and inappropriate by New Zealand author C.K Stead.

The bid to repatriate Katherine Mansfield's remains, to her Wellington birthplace, has been all but squashed.

Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield Photo: WikiCommons

The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society and Wellington mayor Justin Lester had written letters in favour of the disinterment, but the request was rejected by the writer's relatives and the mayor of the French city where she's buried.

The bid has been met with wide-spread criticism from Mansfield scholars who have described as ill-judged and bizarre.

Among them is one of New Zealand's most celebrated writers, and latest Poet Laureate, is C.K Stead.

Stead told RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan the idea was bizarre, ghoulish and quite inappropriate.

[audio-play] Listen to the full interview

He says it was claimed that Mansfield had wanted to be buried in New Zealand, which was far from the truth.

“She never expressed any wish to be buried back here.

“It didn’t make much sense to me, except that the mayor said something about reinforcing the idea of Wellington as the cultural capital.

“I thought by now Wellington had sort of given up on that.”

He says if Mansfield had ever expressed any interest in returning to New Zealand it may have been slightly different, but it would still depend on her nearest surviving relatives’ wishes.

“There are two of them now, apparently consistently saying no to this.”

Stead says Mansfield had regarded New Zealand as a cultural backwater.

“Not quite true or fair even then but that’s how she felt.”

Mansfield’s attitude to New Zealand remained very negative until her brother came to London to fight in the war.

“They played this little game where they remember details of their childhood and then the brother was killed and she felt terrible, sort of guilt, about having not discouraged him with this idea of going to the war.

“She felt a kind of obligation to him and she began to write stories based on their childhood.”

But Stead says Mansfield was established in England and Europe as a writer and it’s not likely she would ever have wanted to come back.

“I do remember reading somewhere, in one of her letters and journals, her describing a lovely dream she had where she was on a ship going back to New Zealand, she was so happy about it, and then suddenly the dream turned into a nightmare when she realised she didn’t have a return ticket.”

He says in London, Mansfield couldn’t have been closer to the centre of the literary world.

Stead says Mansfield’s grave in the French city of Avon in well nicely looked after by the Katherine Mansfield society and is regularly visited by New Zealanders and Mansfield scholars.

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