Modernist writer Katherine Mansfield is arguably the most famous Wellingtonian, and, after Sir Edmund Hillary, possibly the most famous New Zealander, of all time. (Yes, at the moment there are probably more people who know of, say, Peter Jackson, but in a century?).
She was definitely my first introduction to New Zealand. In high school I read ‘At the Bay’ and ‘The Garden Party’, both set in Wellington, as well as her London based ‘Bliss.’ I enjoyed Mansfield’s short stories: the sense of place and time, the ability to convey personality in just a few words.
It wasn’t until I discovered Mansfield’s poetry that I fell in love with her work though. The humour of A New Hymn, the magic of Butterfly Laughter, the picture she paints in In The Rangitaki Valley! Gorgeous!
In addition to being an amazing writer, Mansfield is also fascinating as a person: her life spanned one of the most interesting shifts in societal mores and expectation that history has ever seen. Fashions, are, in fact, the perfect way to illustrate the shift in Mansfield’s life. She was raised at a time when women wore layers of fabric and frills: chemises, corsets, petticoats, high necklines and long trains. She came of age just as the modern woman in practical white blouses and simple skirts began to emerge. As a mature adult she wore the newest, most avant garde fashions, from bright stockings to simple, waistless shift dresses.
So, because I love Mansfield’s writing, and because she, and her clothing, are so interesting, I’m thrilled to be doing a talk in conjunction with the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Museum:
Through the talk I’ll be exploring the way dress shaped society during the author’s life with (of course!) models in reproductions of period garments, from the Victorian constraints of the 1880s to the emancipated silhouettes of the 20s.
And if you can’t be there, of course there will be lots of pictures!