In May 1918, Katherine Mansfield married critic John Middleton Murry, consolidating an alliance Murry believed would change the course of English literature. Just weeks before their wedding, however, Mansfield had been diagnosed with TB. For the next four and a half years she was to spend her life rushing across Europe on trains in the company of Ida Constance Baker, in search of a more congenial climate, a new cure, a place to call home, with or without Murry who was frequently absent from her life. She was also to write her greatest short stories in this period.
In 1922, after an unsuccessful X-ray treatment then in fashion for consumptive patients, she renounced the hope of a medical cure and withdrew to G. I. Gurdjieff’s Institute in Fontainebleau, seeking spiritual regeneration. She had been introduced to Gurdjieff’s ideas by her close friend and literary mentor, Alfred Richard Orage, editor of the London literary review, The New Age, and disciple of Gurdjieff, and by P.D. Ouspensky, Russian philosopher and mathematician who lectured in London on Gurdjieff’ ideas under the patronage of Lady Rothermere (also T.S. Eliot’s patron). She died at the Institute in January 1923.
Katherine’s Wish, explores Mansfield’s inner world in these tumultuous years, focusing on her relationships with Ida Baker and Middleton Murry against the backdrop of her ceaseless journeys and changes of residence --the South of France, London, Italy, Switzerland, and finally, Fontainebleau.
The narrative incorporates modernist techniques used by Mansfield, Virginia Woolf, and DH Lawrence in their fiction, shifting between three distinct points of view: Katherine’s, Ida’s, and Murry’s. As in Toibin’s treatment of Henry James in The Master or Cunningham’s of Virginia Woolf in The Hours, the reader follows Mansfield’s inner and outer peregrinations, her soulful self-interrogations, the evolution of her work, and her complex and often tormented relationships.
Mansfield’s close friends D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf , Dorothy Brett, S.S. Koteliansky appear as minor characters. The atmosphere of Bloomsbury is recreated in vivid period detail, as is the ambience of the secret meetings where Mansfield first had contact with Gurdjieff’s esoteric philosophy. The novel concludes with her visit to Fontainebleau.
Though the book deals with tragic issues, it celebrates Mansfield’s deep love of life, which never abandoned her, and its final message is a life –affirming one of joy and of wholeness achieved.