Sunday, September 07, 2008

Katherine Mansfield at the Prieuré

My first conversation with O[uspensky] took place on August 30, 1922.

On that occasion I began by telling him how dissatisfied I was with the idea that Life must be a lesser thing than we were capable of imagining it to be. I had the feeling that the same thing happened to nearly everybody whom I knew and whom I did not know. No sooner was their youth, with the little force and impetus characteristic of youth, done, then they stopped growing. At the very moment that one felt that now was the time to gather oneself together, to use one’s whole strength, to take control, to be an adult, in fact, they seemed content to swap the darling wish of their hearts for innumerable little wishes. Or the image that suggested itself to me was that of a river flowing away in countless little trickles over a dark swamp.

They deceived themselves, of course. They called this trickling away—greater tolerance—wider interests—a sense of proportion—so that work did not rule out the possibility of ‘life.’ Or they called it an escape from all this mind-probing and self-consciousness—a simpler and therefore a better way of life. But sooner or later, in literature at any rate, there sounded an undertone of deep regret. There was an uneasiness, a sense of frustration. One heard, one thought one heard, the cry that began to echo in one’s own being: “I have missed it. I have given up. This is not what I want. If this is all, then Life is not worth living.”

But I know it is not all. How does one know that? Let me take the case of K. M. She has led, ever since she can remember, a very typically false life. Yet, through it all, there have been moments, instants, gleams, when she has felt the possibility of something quite other.

September 30
“Do you know what individuality is?”


“Consciousness of will. To be conscious that you have a will and can act.”

Yes, it is. It’s a glorious saying.


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