There aren’t any superfluous words: Katherine Mansfield on editing her work

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I haven’t delved into Katherine Mansfield’s diaries and letters for years. I used to do it all the time. After mere minutes of paging through this collection of letters to her husband John Middleton Murry, I found two very quotable, relatable reflections on the subjects of editing, and of being alone in an old house at night.

On having to edit down her latest short story*, she writes:

I’ve nursed the Epilogue to no purpose. Every time I pick it up and hear “You’ll keep it to six,” I can’t cut it. To my knowledge there aren’t any superfluous words: I mean every line of it. I don’t “just ramble on” you know, but this thing happened to just fit six and a half pages. You can’t cut it without making an ugly mess somewhere.

[…]

If you and Wilfrid feel more qualified for the job…. Oh, do by all means—But I’d rather it wasn’t there at all than sitting in The Blue Review with a broken nose and one ear as though it had jumped into an editorial dog-fight.

And, writing about spending nights alone in their country cottage in Cholesbury, Buckinghamshire, she reflects:

It is raining again to-day, and last night the wind howled and I gloomed and shivered, and heard locks being filed and ladders balanced against windows and footsteps padding upstairs … all the old properties jigged in the old way. I’m a lion all day, darling, but with the last point of daylight I begin to turn into a lamb and by midnight—mon Dieu! by midnight the whole world has turned into a butcher!

* The final version of her story – edited, we assume – ended up in the first edition of The Blue Review (SFW!), occupying five-and-a-bit pages of the magazine. The Blue Review ran for just three issues over the summer of 1913. I kind of love short-run journals like that.

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