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Stealing Lives, Borrowing Voices: Inventing a Secret Life for Katherine Mansfield in Sudden Flight. Extract from Sudden Flight and Critical Commentary

Ellis, Kirsten. 2019. Stealing Lives, Borrowing Voices: Inventing a Secret Life for Katherine Mansfield in Sudden Flight. Extract from Sudden Flight and Critical Commentary. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

My novel, Sudden Flight, envisages an alternative telling for the last few months in the life of the New Zealand modernist writer Katherine Mansfield, closely based on fact, narrated by an imaginary protagonist, the Canadian doctor Charles Jermyn with whom she has had a brief passionate affair during the war in Paris, who unexpectedly re-enters her life. A fable-like blend of historical fiction, life-writing and biographical fiction, the novel straddles several literary subgenres with different methodologies, critical traditions and literary standing; in this critical commentary I contextualize the approach and methodology I used in identifying, describing and weighing up those differences. I analyse how I attempted to meet the challenge of doing biographical justice to my subject, well aware that I would be venturing into territory already heavily mined by Mansfield scholars and biographers, as well a number of novelists, while at the same time constructing a speculative fictional life for her, one deliberately at odds with the version of events presented by Mansfield’s husband John Middleton Murry.

This commentary is an exploration of the problematic —even controversial — ethical and methodological challenges facing a writer combining real and fictional characters, set within the critical context of biographical and historical scholarship. In particular, I question by what paradox biofiction can promise to satisfy particular curiosities about gaps in the record about the life of a real person while also asking readers to suspend disbelief and trust in its facsimile reality, and ask by what criteria successful biofiction can (and should) be judged.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):

https://doi.org/10.25602/GOLD.00026153

Keywords:

Katherine Mansfield, biographical fiction, biofiction, life-writing

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature

Date:

28 February 2019

Item ID:

26153

Date Deposited:

02 Apr 2019 15:51

Last Modified:

01 May 2020 07:09

URI:

http://research.gold.ac.uk/id/eprint/26153

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