Previously unknown to Mansfield’s modern readers and scholars, the short story His Little Friend, by a then 11-year-old Kathleen M. Beauchamp (her given name), was published on the children’s page of the New Zealand Graphic on 13 October 1900.
The story is reprinted in full in Redmer Yska’s new book, A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888–1903. Redmer describes the story, about the friendship between a lonely, elderly man and an impoverished child, as showing the young Mansfield “grappling with harsh, bleak truths at a young age, paving the way for much of what was to come”.
Local History and Rare Books Librarian Gábor Tóth, who looks after the Wellington Central Library’s collection of bound copies of the New Zealand Graphic, was instrumental in the discovery.
“I knew that we hold what is probably the largest collection of hard-copies of this weekly magazine in New Zealand, and also how popular it had been among middle-class women in the two decades leading up to World War I,” says Gábor.
“Knowing that Redmer was writing a new biography of Katherine Mansfield, I encouraged him to look through a few volumes of the magazine. Partly because it helps paint a picture of what Wellington was like at the turn of last century, but also because I had come across several references to the Beauchamp family in the ‘society’ pages when I had previously browsed through copies.”
The discovery of the unknown writings has excited local and international experts. “Other than a few short pieces in school magazines, it was believed that Mansfield’s first formally published work wasn’t printed until 1907. To uncover a short story dated seven years before then was an extraordinary find; and it was fitting that Redmer was the person to find it,” adds Gábor.
Redmer Yska’s new book, A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888–1903, published by Otago University Press, was launched at Unity Books last night.
A video depicting the discovery can be seen here.