“Katerina” Mansfield’s Russian dream

“Katerina” Mansfield’s Russian dream

Katherine Mansfield Birthplace Society chairwoman Nicky Saker and Russian Ambassador Valery Tereshchenko viewing a portrait of Katherine Mansfield that was lent to the exhibition by Te Papa.

Katherine Mansfield may never have set foot in Mother Russia, but some of that country’s great writers nevertheless influenced her own short story prose.

The Wellington-based exhibition in Thorndon Katherine Mansfield’s Russian Dream explores the impact of authors such as Leo Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov in developing Mansfield’s innovative style.

It also uncovers hidden treasures from her past and reveals a lesser-known side of the internationally-acclaimed New Zealand author.

Katherine Mansfield House and Garden co-ordinator Victoria Robson said the exhibition was based on research that biographer Joanna Woods conducted for her book, Katerina: the Russian world of Katherine Mansfield.

“We wanted to use some recent research on Katherine Mansfield and we were very lucky to be able to borrow from both public institutions and private individuals.”

Robson said Mansfield was attracted to Russian culture throughout her life.

“[It] influenced her choice of friends as much as the style and subject matter of her writing, and conversely, Soviet Russia was also influenced by Mansfield’s writing.”

Mansfield’s stories were translated and published in what was then the Soviet Union from the early 1920s. Russian editions have been sourced especially for this exhibition.

“The fact that she was one of the few people who were published in Russia right throughout the 20th century is remarkable really.”

Mansfield’s works were even published posthumously in the 1930s and 1940s when there was mass censorship throughout Soviet Russia.

“They weren’t really willing to publish any Western authors because they were considered to be dissident and bourgeois,” Robson said. “But somehow Katherine Mansfield escaped that, maybe because they saw her as being like Chekhov, who is of course a great hero in Russia.”

Robson said the small number of visitors over the past two months had been thrilled with the exhibition, with the upstairs gallery of Mansfield’s former home transformed with long-kept treasures and brightly-lit decor.

Paintings are on loan from Te Papa and the Alexander Turnbull Library, including the famous portrait of Mansfield by Anne Estelle Rice, as well as a lesser-known painting of Mansfield and a close friend, Ukrainian translator S S Koteliansky, by Beatrice Campbell.

“The exhibition looks really gorgeous, the graphics are very rich, it looks fabulous.”

The exhibition, which was opened in March by Russian Ambassador Valery Tereshchenko over quintessentially Russian blinis and vodka, closes this weekend.

Katherine Mansfield’s Russian Dream exhibition is open until this Sunday, June 4; 10am to 4pm, at Katherine Mansfield House & Garden, Tinakori Road, Thorndon.

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Article by Safia Archer

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