It’s almost impossible to read Katherine Mansfield’s “The Escape” without linking back to the author’s own biography. But perhaps we shouldn’t look to Mansfield’s relationship with a man in order to understand where this story might have come from. Biographer Claire Tomalin has said this about Mansfield:
[Mansfield] was a liar all her life — … and her lies went quite beyond conventional social lying. Whereas Murry “forgot” things or distorted subtly, she was a bold and elaborate inventor of false versions. A charitable view of the origin of this habit could be that it was a bid for attention, a response to feeling obscured and overlooked in a large family with an inattentive mother; this may then have developed into a pleasure in dramatising for its own sake, making herself into the heroine of the story. If the truth was dull, it could be artistically embroidered; and if she was the heroin of her own life story, lies became not lies but fiction, a perfectly respectable thing.
— A Secret Life
I don’t necessarily believe we need to go into a person’s childhood to understand why they do the things they do. The Internet phenomenon of Catfishing has taught us that sometimes drawing others into our fantasies makes our fantasies even more fun. Couldn’t it simply be that?
Whatever her reasons for invention, Mansfield had first hand insight into fantasists. “The Escape” is the ultimate fantasist story, evident from the title.
There’s more to this story than ‘insight into a fantasist’, however. That alone would be quite boring — like hearing all about someone’s dream.
Mansfield seems to be conducting an experiment: What if an author gave silence to a man and speech to a woman?
Download “The Escape” by Katherine Mansfield (PDF with line numbers)