In August 1917, Virginia invited Katherine to spend a few days with them at Asheham. At the end of July, Katherine had been staying with Ottoline Morrell at Garsington; she evoked its enchanting garden in a letter to Virginia which has not survived. Virginia, writing to Ottoline on 15 August, enlarged upon her rapturous account: ‘Katherine Mansfield describes your garden, the rose leaves drying in the sun, the pool, and long conversations between people wandering up and down in the moonlight. It calls out her romantic side.’ On the same day Katherine herself had written to Ottoline, wondering ‘who is going to write about the flower garden … There would be people walking in the garden — several pairs of people — their conversation their slow pacing — … the pauses as the flowers “come in” as it were — … A kind of musically speaking — conversation set to flowers.’ The answer, surprisingly, turned out to be Virginia: Katherine’s word picture uncannily anticipates her short story ‘Kew Gardens’, which survives in a typescript dated ‘Aug 7, 1917’ — a week before either of these letters was sent to Ottoline. Did Katherine’s missing letter about Garsington provide the starting point for Virginia’s story, with the moonlight transformed into sunlight and the privacy of Garsington changed to the public gardens at Kew — or had she composed it earlier and quite independently, the several similarities being just a curious coincidence?
Here is Mansfield’s response to an early draft of “Kew Gardens” that Woolf showed her:
‘Yes, your Flower Bed is very good. There’s a still, quivering, changing light over it all and a sense of those couples dissolving in the bright air which fascinates me —’. ‘[I]t is really very curious & thrilling’, she had written in the previous paragraph, ‘that we should both, quite apart from each other, be after so very nearly the same thing’.
Carol Ann Duffy 15 ideas!
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