A Thoroughly Modern Girl
Have you ever read something that popped open your eyes and made you tiptoe a short distance so that you might peek around the corner to see what happens next?
That’s how I bumped into Katherine.
I peeked around the corner and there she was.
John Murry of England popped my eyes open when he casually mentioned that he went skinny dipping with his wife, Katherine, and David Lawrence and his German wife, Frieda.
“There, on the deserted sand, the four of us bathed naked in the half-light, first happy, then shivering. Then we went back and ate a huge supper of fried steak and tomatoes. For some reason those tomatoes gleam very red in my memory.”
As you can see, John is a better-than-average writer.
So I tiptoed over to Google and asked about his wife.
The next thing I knew, I was reading letters from Katherine!
At 26 years old, Katherine is full of interesting ideas. She says,
“I have made it a rule of my life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy… you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.
…I find in all the works of the greatest writers, especially in their unedited letters, some touch, some sign of myself – some resemblance, some part of myself, like a thousand reflections of my own hands in a dark mirror….
Why does one feel so different at night? Why is it so exciting to be awake when everybody else is asleep? Late—it is very late! And yet every moment you feel more and more wakeful, as though you were slowly, almost with every breath, waking up into a new, wonderful, far more thrilling and exciting world than the daylight one. And what is this queer sensation that you’re a conspirator? Lightly, stealthily you move about your room. You take something off the dressing-table and put it down again without a sound. And everything, even the bedpost, knows you, responds, shares your secret…”
Katherine is a modern girl. Which, frankly, surprises me. And it should surprise you, too, considering that she died in 1923.
She was 34 years old.
Henry Ford was cranking out Model T’s and Teddy Roosevelt was searching for the headwaters of The River of Doubt in South America when Katherine Mansfield and her husband John Murry went skinny dipping with David (D.H.) Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, in 1914.
The skinny dipping led to Katherine’s husband, John Murry, having an affair with D.H. Lawrence’s wife, Frieda.
D.H. Lawrence responded by writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the novel that branded him as a pornographer and triggered official persecution by the English government, including censorship and misrepresentation of his creative work throughout the rest of his life. Up until then, Lawrences writings had mostly been about the dehumanizing effects of industrialization and how they affect emotional health, vitality, spontaneity and instinct. Broken, he died in 1930 at the age of 44.
D.H. Lawrence was 6 years younger than his wife, Frieda.
Frieda’s first husband had been one of Lawrence’s college professors. She abandoned her husband and their 3 young children to run away with Lawrence 2 years prior to the skinny dipping, the fried steaks and the bright red tomatoes.
What if D.H. Lawrence had taken a different class?
Might Frieda’s kids still have a Mom?
What if John Murry hadn’t gone skinny dipping?
Would those tomatoes have seemed so red?
Monday, January 2, 1911
We’ve never met and it’s not likely that we ever will.
The purpose of this note is to offer you some advice from 105 years in the future.
The short story you’re writing for John Middleton Murry, the editor of Rhythm magazine, is going to open some doors for you. You have a bright career ahead as an author!
But John Murry is going to suggest that the two of you should have drinks, or dinner, or whatever. When this happens, you should immediately discontinue all contact with John.
You need to trust me on this.
Your friend from 2016,
I plan to mail this letter as soon as I can locate a 1911 English postage stamp that hasn’t yet been used.
I hope she gets it in time.
Roy H. Williams