‘We have bought our Press! We don’t know how to work it, but now I must find some young novelists or poets. Do you know any?’ (10 April 1917). In this letter to her sister, Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf announced the beginning of what Leonard Woolf at first envisaged as his wife’s new ‘hobby’, but which they together subsequently developed into a profitable commercial enterprise.
When none of Virginia’s various literary acquaintances or friends took up her invitation to submit an unpublished work to them for publication by their new Press, she turned to an aspiring story writer whom she had herself only recently met: ‘I am going to see Katherine Mansfield. To get a story from her, perhaps…’ (26 April 1917). Mansfield agreed to give a story to the Woolfs for their Hogarth Press.
Mansfield possibly already had in mind a revision of her long modernist story, The Aloe, which she had described in a letter to her future husband, John Middleton Murry, on 25 March 1915: ‘The Muses descended in a ring like the angels on the Botticelli Nativity roof … and I fell into the open arms of my first novel [The Aloe]’ which she seems to have then set aside. After her soldier brother, Second-Lieutenant Leslie Beauchamp, was killed in a hand grenade accident at Ploegesteert Wood, France, she confided to her journal: ‘Dear brother … now as I write these words and talk of getting down to the New Zealand atmosphere I see you opposite to me, I see your thoughtful seeing eyes.’ (14 February ). Two days later, she recorded in her notebook her feelings when she came across this unfinished first draft: ‘The Aloe is lovely. It simply fascinates me, and I know that it is what you [her brother] would wish me to write’ (The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks, II, pp.58-60).
…the arrangement of the type is such a business that we shant be ready to start printing directly. One has great blocks of type, which have to be divided into their separate letters, and founts, and then put onto the right partitions. The work of ages, especially when you mix the hs with the ns, as I did yesterday. We get so absorbed we can’t stop; I see that real printing will devour one’s entire life.
Yet a sufficient proficiency in the art of printing did not take them very long to acquire. By July 1917, their booklet, Two Stories – Virginia’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’ and Leonard’s ‘Three Jews’– was printed in a limited edition of 150 and sent out to friends and subscribers who had paid one shilling and sixpence in advance.
If by the time Mansfield finished her manuscript of Prelude she had seen a copy of the Woolfs’ Two Stories, she was not discouraged by the flimsy quality of the Roger Fry marbled cover of their ‘Publication No. 1’, let alone by the stereotyped characterisation in one of the stories – Leonard’s ‘Three Jews’. Towards the end of July 1917, she sent her story Prelude – a revision of her manuscript draft of The Aloe – to the Hogarth Press. Virginia Woolf approved her submission, to which Mansfield responded: ‘It makes me very happy that you liked my little story; thank you so much for telling me’ (25 July 1917).
If the Woolfs kept business records for the first four years of their Hogarth Press, which they had set up at Hogarth House where they lived in Richmond, Surrey, these have been mislaid or lost. But the fact that Virginia arranged to meet Mansfield for tea on Friday 27 July just after she had received Prelude suggests that she might – as she often did – intend to mix her publishing work with her socialising. On Sunday 29 July in all probability, Mansfield saw Virginia again at Hogarth House, ‘but she was not alone’, so Prelude was probably not discussed a second time then.
In her letter of mid-August 1917, Mansfield told Virginia that she had been too ill to ‘cope with the bloody copying’, and had paid a typist to produce a fair copy. Mansfield also asked Virginia for an invitation to meet her again:
I simply long to see you. I want to talk too about your Mark on the Wall … May I come & see you on Sunday at tea time or af- ter supper time or whenever it suits you? Oh when may I come? I thought you had finally dispatched me to cruel callous Coven- try, without a wave of your lily white hand. Do let us meet in the nearest future darling Virginia & don’t quite forget Katherine.
Virginia’s response to this cri de coeur was to invite Mansfield to stay for five days at Asheham House from 18 to 22 August 1917. On 19 August, Katherine, along with Lytton Strachey and Edward Garnett, signed Virginia’s postcard to R.C. Trevelyan from the Asheham address, which shows that she had turned up there.
During Mansfield’s visit to Asheham, her hostess probably discussed with her further editorial alterations to her typescript of Prelude. Mansfield left this typescript with her when she left Asheham on 22 August. About three days later, Mansfield wrote to Virginia, ‘Can you let me have those pages? I haven’t another ‘fair copy’ & then I’ll send you the compleat artikel’ ([c. 23] August 1917). Mansfield’s friend, the Scottish ‘Fauvist’ artist, J.D. Fergusson, wanted ‘to read the story’ in the last week of August 1917 in order to design woodcuts to illustrate Prelude. But this choice of illustrator caused some strain later between Mansfield and her publisher, even though the Woolfs had at first assented to Katherine’s engagement of Fergusson.
After their publication of Two Stories, the Woolfs had taken on an apprentice – ‘so that we can get on quicker’ – Alix Sargant-Florence, a recent Cambridge graduate – but after only one afternoon she felt ‘so bored’ that she left that same day. The Woolfs’ next apprentice printer, Barbara Hiles, began to learn to typeset at the Hogarth Press from 21 November 1917; and subsequently she typeset the beginning of Mansfield’s final typescript, which the author had returned to Virginia in early autumn 1917. In February 1918, before she had completed the typesetting of Prelude, Hiles left the Hogarth Press to get married. Consequently, Virginia herself had to finish the typesetting of Mansfield’s novella, a task that was slowed down by Virginia’s social engagements as well as her own writing. Other inter- ruptions also occurred such as intermittent German air raids in London that caused the Woolfs to escape temporarily to Asheham.
Towards the end of February 1918, Mansfield complained to Ottoline Mor- rell that ‘the Woolfs must have eaten the Aloe [Prelude] root and branch or made jam of it.’ At the end of May, however, Virginia had completed typesetting Prelude. She then began wrangling with Mansfield and Murry over J.D. Fergusson’s woodcuts – which the Woolfs disliked, but which Mansfield tried to insist on – for the front cover and end page of Prelude. In fact, Virginia had already complained to Ottoline Morrell on 24 May 1918 that Fergusson had ‘done a design for her story which makes our gorges rise, to such an extent that we can hardly bring ourselves to print it.’ Mans- field was staying in Cornwall at the time and asked Murry to negotiate with the Woolfs for her. Agreement was reached that the Woolfs would print a few copies with the Fergusson woodcuts on the front cover and end piece; but the covers on the other copies would have ‘a plain blue cover with Prelude on it’ (Mansfield’s letters to J. M. Murry, 29 May-3 June 1918). The Hogarth Press on 11 July 1918 then published Prelude – a long story of sixty-eight pages – as its first commissioned work.
It might be praiseworthy or exciting to publish a strikingly innovative short story as a small book, but how do the author and publisher attract read- ers, particularly when the publishers are little known in that field, and the author is almost unheard of by the reading public? Although the Woolfs had put out ‘notices’ inviting readers to pay three shillings and sixpence in advance and get Prelude sent to them on publishing day, this method of publicity had not been as effective as it had been in selling their own Two Stories. The Woolfs, however, had both established a reputation as writers in a wide circle of Bloomsbury friends and acquaintances, whereas only a few readers and critics might have been aware of Mansfield’s collection, In A German Pension (1911), or her later stories in the New Age, a Fabian weekly edited by A. R. Orage.
Mansfield, before her book appeared, had been concerned about the lack of response to advertisements of Prelude that had been sent to putative subscribers. At the end of May, she wrote to Virginia from Cornwall, ‘Six or seven orders – what extreme minginess! I blush at the idea. I shall have to come back & persuade you & L[eonard] to let me sell it on a barrow – customers to bring their own wrappings…’ [29 May 1918]. Moreover, Virginia, by the time of publication, was privately somewhat ambivalent in her recommendation of the qualities of the innovatory Prelude to her brother-in-law and critic, Clive Bell: ‘I only maintain that K.M.’s story has a certain quality as a work of art besides the obvious cleverness, which made it worth printing, and a good deal better than most stories anyhow’ (letter of 16 July 1918).
On 15 July 1918, just four days after Prelude came out, Mansfield told Ida Baker, her longstanding friend and confidante, that she was pleased to receive encouragement and support from some of her readers: ‘Funny, odd people write to me and say how much they like my book [Prelude]. Oh, how lovely praise is – not praise exactly – but friendly waves – …’ Perhaps she had these readers in mind when in November 1918 she described to Virginia her feelings about her book’s initial reception: ‘I am awfully glad that Prelude has given a little pleasure – I have felt guilty towards you on its account, as a matter of fact, for I thought it had been a bad failure & you cursed the day.’
By then Prelude had received ’mixed’ reviews in The Daily News (9 Au- gust 1918) and The Nation (21 September 1918). Although B. J Kirkpatrick listed these two reviews in her Bibliography of Katherine Mansfield (1980), critics and biographers have not referred to them. The anonymous reviewer for the Daily News responded appreciatively to Mansfield’s recreation of incidents in her early years as ‘vividly real and humorous …’, adding ‘The lover of plots need not … trouble to read Prelude, but anyone who is interested in the development of fiction in the hands of the younger writers should not miss it.’ A month later in The Nation, Robert Lynd, categorised Prelude as ‘impressionistic realism’ in its ‘clever pattern of sensations and emotion.’ Although he misnames the main family in this story ‘Russell’ instead of ‘Fairfield’, his interpretation of the title as meaning ‘that the chronicle shall come to more’, proved correct in that Mansfield published two further stories – ‘At The Bay’ (1922) and ‘The Garden Party’ (1922) — which are based on later periods in her New Zealand childhood.
Another anonymous review of Prelude appeared two years later in The Times Literary Supplement (16 December 1920), which the TLS Archive subsequently attributed to Harold Hannygton Child (1869-1945), one of their regular contributors. He described both Prelude and Je Ne Parle Pas Français as ‘stories good to linger over’, yet in relation to Prelude he places the story in America, whereas Mansfield’s references to Picton and Quarantine Island indicate that her setting is New Zealand. Moreover, he reduces Mansfield’s impressionistic writing about her early childhood to a series of unfinished scenarios. Despite these errors, Hannygton Child partly redeems his initial misperception through his recognition of Mansfield’s literary artistry: ‘the whole thing is so lively with subtle movement and colour, that it holds the reader more firmly than many an elaborated study.’