Who hasn’t heard of ‘The Doll’s House’, the heartbreakingly tender story of two families of little girls, cruelly divided by class, in colonial New Zealand? It is one of the greatest short stories in our country’s literary history, and it was penned by a young woman whose life we now celebrate in a number of different ways – all of them destinations we can visit!
Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp was born in 1888 in Wellington. She was not suited to her strict Edwardian times and found an outlet for her creative spirit through writing. This passion took her abroad where she mixed with other now well-known writers such as Virginia Woolf and D H Lawrence. She published her first collection of stories in 1911, married the literary critic John Middleton Murray, and lost her much-loved youngest brother, Leslie, in the First World War.
Katherine Mansfield House, Wellington
Today, Katherine Mansfield’s life and writing lives on at 25 Tinakori Road, Thorndon, Wellington, at the historic home her father Harold Beachamp built for his family in 1888. Today, visitors to the house can wander around its pretty cottage garden which is filled with the sorts of heritage flowers Mansfield so often mentioned in her writing. Inside the home, scraps of original wallpaper are on display, along with the building’s bamboo-style bannisters and items of colonial-era furniture. Admission fees and hours of opening can be found on The Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society Inc. webpage.
The Garden Party, Hamilton Gardens
In what must surely be a unique tribute to Katherine Mansfield, Hamilton Gardens has created a living scene from one of her most acclaimed short stories, ‘The Garden Party’. From a colonial house (scaled down) to a Model T Ford parked in its driveway, the scene is so historically accurate as to be breathtaking. On an immaculately mown lawn tennis court, a striped marque protects tables of exquisitely-prepared cream cakes, sandwiches and other dainties of the era while in one corner, the instruments of a string quartet are waiting for their musicians to pick them up. The garden is filled with roses, and as a backdrop to the house, native trees and shrubs (of the kind that would have grown in Wellington, where the story is set) dot the surrounding slopes. The setting is the perfect garden in a native bush clearing, and if you are lucky enough to visit it on a warm day, the perfume of roses is intoxicating.
Katherine Mansfield Park, Wellington
In the very heart of Wellington, close to the motorway and the American Embassy in Thorndon, is a tranquil respite from the city’s hustle and bustle. It is The Katherine Mansfield Park – an historic place, playground and much-loved landmark. It is also home to the Lady McKenzie Garden for the Blind which was built in the late 1960s and offers up a range of deliciously perfumed herbs and flowers. In spring, flowering cherries grace the park with their dainty pink blooms, reminding visitors of the delicate nature of so much of Mansfield’s writings.
Katherine Mansfield Sculpture
In Midland Park, Lambton Quay, Wellington, the striking sculpture Women of Words celebrates the life and work of Katherine Mansfield. The stainless steel work by artist Virginia King features quotations from Mansfield’s writings. By day, the arresting sculpture reflects the movement of the city while at night it appears as a colourful lantern with the quotations picked out as silhouettes.