Katherine Mansfield    Getty Images
Katherine Mansfied: ‘Her First Ball’, ‘Something Childish but very Natural’ on ‘The Voyage’ Getty Images

Katherine Mansfield, born October 14, 1888, was one of the most accomplished short-story writers to hail from New Zealand. She also developed a crush on a cricketer. Arunabha Sengupta looks at her journals to find out the cricketing connections of this intriguing literary figure.

Dramatis Personae

Late 1906.

The 12,231 gross ton SS Corinthic set sail with its formidable dimensions, the solitary funnel, four masts and a potential speed of 14 knots. The accommodation allowed 121 first-class passengers, 117 in the second class and 450 more in the third class.

The voyage would traverse Cape Town and proceed along the Cape of Good Hope, through to Indian Ocean before docking in Auckland.

On board was the MCC side, captained by the army man Teddy Wynyard. A veteran of the Kings Liverpool Regiment and the Burmese Expedition of 1885 to 87, Wynyard had become captain of the Welsh Regiment and later an instructor of military engineering at the Royal Military College before retiring as a major. A cricketer of considerable class, Wynyard had represented Hampshire with distinction and also played 3 Tests in South Africa the previous winter.

The MCC side under Wynyard was to become the first to tour New Zealand. It was an all-amateur affair, and included two men who would later go on to represent England with aplomb. Johnny Douglas was there, and he would win a boxing gold in the 1908 Olympics and later captain England on both sides of the Great War. And there was George Simpson-Hayward, the lobster, the famous lob bowler who would cover himself in glory in 1909-10 with his tantalising underarm deliveries.

One of the major organisers of the tour was a comparatively minor cricketer. Ronny Fox had been born in Otago, and had played a bit of cricket for the Gentlemen of England and HD Leveson Gower s XI. A wicketkeeper and a decent batsman, he would much later tour England with a New Zealand side in 1927.

And also among the passengers was another name which would become as famous as the best of the cricketing troupe, but in a different field. A short-haired 18-year-old girl with penetrating eyes and lips set in a thin line, Katherine Mansfield would become one of the most prominent modernist short story writers to hail from New Zealand. But that would be much later.

In late 1906, Katherine was on her way back to Wellington, having spent three years at Queen s College in Harley Street, in the footsteps of her sisters.

Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp heralded from a cricket-loving family. Father Harold Beauchamp was on the board of the Bank of New Zealand and would be knighted later in his life. He was also a regular visitor to Basin Reserve. So were Katherine s sisters. However, Katherine herself was not really that into the game. At least, her reminiscences did not profess any unusual interest.

At that moment there were other things on her mind than cricket, because she had spent the last few months in continental Europe, travelling across Belgium and Germany.

However, much changed during this voyage.

By all evidence, the young maiden developed an enormous crush for one of the cricketers.

Shipboard Romance

In the Journal of Katherine Mansfield we find the entry On the Corinthic. And there we can read Mansfield describing this crush:

Swiftly the night came.

Like a great white bird the ship sped onward onward into the unknown I was drifting in a great boundless purple sea. I was being tossed to and fro by the power of the waves, and the confused sound of many voices floated to me. A sense of unutterable loneliness pervaded my spirit. I knew this sea was eternal. I was eternal. This crying was eternal.

So, smiling at myself, I sit down to analyse this new influence: this complex emotion. I am never anywhere for long without a like experience. It is not one man or woman that [illegible] vision it is the whole octave of sex.

After this obscure passage, the crush becomes more tangible. With several hints that he was one of the cricketers on board.

F.R. is my latest. The first time I saw him I was lying back in my chair, and he walked past. I watched the complete rhythmic movement, and absolute self-confidence, the beauty of his body, and that [illegible] which is the everlasting and eternal in youth and creation stirred in me. I heard him speaking: he has a low, full, strangely exciting voice, a habit of mimicking others, a keen sense of humour. His face is clean cut, like the face of a statue, his mouth absolutely Grecian. Also he has seen much and lived much and his hand is perfectly strong and cool. He is certainly tall, and his clothes shape the lines of his figure. When I am with him a preposterous desire seizes me, I want to be badly hurt by him. I should like to ne strangled by his firm hands. He smokes cigarettes frequently and exquisitely fastidiously.

Last night we sat on deck. He taught me piquet [a French card game]. It was intensely hot. He wore a loose silk shirt under his dress coat. He was curiously excitable, almost a little violent at times. There was a suppressed agitation in every look, every movement. He spoke French for the greater part of the time with exquisite fluency and a certain extreme affectation. He has spent years in Paris. The more hearts you have the better, he said, leaning over my hand. I felt his coat sleeve against my bare arm. If one heart is a primitive affair, I answered, in these days one must possess many. We exchanged a long look and his glance inflamed me like the scent of a gardenia.

After these turbulent sentences of pure crush, she provides evidence that this was definitely one of the cricketers.

Yesterday afternoon a game of cricket was in progress on the deck. He began bowling. I stood and watched. He took a few slow steps and then bowled at the wicket with the most marvellous force. But every time he did it, each ball seemed to be aimed at my heart. I panted for breath

Finally, Katherine concludes with the following ardent dreams of disquiet.

We deny our minds to the extent we castrate our bodies. I am wondering if that is true and thinking that it most certainly is. Oh, I want to push it as far as it will go. Tomorrow night there is to be a ball. Thank Dieu I know my dancing is really beautiful. I shall fight for what I want, yet I don t definitely know what that is. I want to upset him, stir in him strange depths. He has seen so much, it would be such a conquest. At present he is I do not know, I think intensely curious and a little baffled. Am I to become eventually une jeune fille entretenue. It points to it. O God, that is better than being the daughter of my parents.

That is all we have in Mansfield s journal about her feelings for this cricketer.

Who was FR?

The question that naturally pops up is who was this F.R.?

The passenger list of the Corinthin gives the names of following cricketers on board in alphabetical order:

G.T. Branston, W.B. Burns, W.G.H. Curwen, C.E. De Trafford, J.W.H. Douglas, R.H. Fox, W.P. Harrison, G.H. Simpson-Hayward, P.R. May, C.C. Page, A.A. Torrens, N.C. Tufnell.

Hence, there is no F.R.

However, it is very likely that the young maiden cooked up a code for the name, perhaps to maintain secrecy and to revel in the joy of keeping the amorous ventures secret.

One of the simplest ways to do that is to take the initials of the person and reverse them.

And viola! Ronny Fox turns out to be the prime suspect.

There are other reasons that point to him as well.

Fox was, as already mentioned, a New Zealander who had migrated to England. It is likely that the two returning compatriots had struck up a friendship.

In the ship s fancy dress ball, Fox went on stage as a Maori chief. In Mansfield s later writings, as well as in the accounts of her early life, we do find her extremely sympathetic to the native Maoris. So, was the get up a combined decision of the two tottering on the brink of shipboard romance?

There are some difficulties in making Fox the mystery man.

For one thing he was the wicketkeeper of the team, and therefore it seems strange that he bowled in the way described. But delving in the scorebooks, we also find that he did turn his arm over against the Fifteen of Wairarapa at Masterton, and captured a creditable 5 for 10 and 3 for 14, bowling medium-pace with appreciable swerve. Hence, he could very well have bowled on the deck.

David Kynaston, writing about the MCC tour to New Zealand in 1922-23, dwells a while on this topic and points out that sometimes Fox did sport a moustache. But that is, as Kynaston says, a minor difficulty, because it is very probable that during the voyage he was clean-shaven.

Kynaston also argues that perhaps if we go just by the description of the man s physical appearance, as jotted down through the maiden s love-struck words, evidence tends to point in the direction of Douglas. A celebrated boxer at his peak, he must have been in the prime of manhood. Douglas did bowl medium-pace, and he had a normal run-up. The restrictions physically imposed by deck cricket could have limited his approach to a few slow steps.

Kynaston also points out that the style of bowling regrettably rules out the lobster Simpson-Hayward as a probable candidate.

After the ship docked in Auckland, the romance petered out, as in many of the shipboard flings of those days. The cricketers started their travels and got busy with their matches. There was a dance given for the team at Wellington, and Chaddie Beauchamp, Katherine s sister, recounted after the ball that, The English cricket team are all perfectly charming and it is just lovely when they are in Wellington.

Katherine herself did not write about the mystery cricketer again.

Yet, after a few months, her journal records another evidence that the man in question was really Fox. I have been foolish many times (especially with Oscar Fox), she wrote. Oscar is a confusing addition, but it could very well have been a nickname.

The other way

In 1918, the established writer Mansfield got married to John Middleton Murray, editor of the avant-garde magazine Rhythm. However, before that they had enjoyed a stop-start relationship for seven long years. Besides Murray, Mansfield was attracted to the cellist Arnold Trowell even before the voyage on SS Corinthic. She had other lovers as well.

However, besides these, the young Katherine also had two notable romantic relationships with two women.

One took place immediately after the voyage, with artist Edith Kathleen Bendall. This was a fling that lasted a couple of years till Katherine returned to England in 1908.

The other same-gender relationship had preceded the dalliance with Bendall. In Miss Swainson s school in Wellington, Katherine had met Maata Mahupuku, a Maori girl from a wealthy family. Their paths had crossed again in London in 1906.

In 1907, Katherine wrote in her journal, I want Maata I want her as I have had her terribly. This is unclean I know but true. Maata appears in several of her short stories.

Maata, daughter of Richard Tiki William Mahupuku, a sheep farmer of Longbush, was commonly called Martha.

When she was 3, her father passed away. Two years later, in 1895, her mother Emily Sexton married again, this time to one Nathaniel Grace.

Hence, Maata Mahupuku also went by her gentile name Martha Grace .

From the cricketing point of view, this is a curiosity because Martha Grace happens to be name of the famed matriarch of the noble game, the mother of WG Grace.