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

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.