Earlier this week, Radio 3 broadcast a reading of “A Little Episode”, a short story by Katherine Mansfield. The story was on air between Brahms’s second and third violin sonatas, in the interval of a concert recorded live from Wigmore Hall. This was a peculiarly fitting moment to hear “A Little Episode”, for the story begins as a crowd gathers to attend a concert. The main character, a young and lonely society wife, is a member of the audience; at the interval she goes backstage to find the pianist. Their brief affair is the little episode of the story’s title: an affair as fleeting and elliptical as the short story form itself. That Radio 3 chose to place Morven Christie’s reading of “A Little Episode” during an interval emphasised this blink-and-you-miss-it quality. It also demonstrated what a lot Mansfield can pack into such a short space of time and text: 17 minutes and 2500 words.
“A Little Episode” dates from 1909, making it one of Mansfield’s earliest works. But until last year the story was unknown and unpublished, its manuscript tucked away in the archives of ADAM International Review, the 20th century magazine of the arts edited by Miron Grindea. Mystery surrounds this archive-within-an-archive; Grindea devoted an entire issue of ADAM to Katherine Mansfield (Vol XXXVIII, Numbers 370-375, 1972-3), including unpublished letters, fiction and juvenilia. “A Little Episode” did not appear in the ADAM issue but showed up 40 years later when Chris Mourant, a PhD student at King’s College London, was researching the ADAM archives. He discovered “A Little Episode”, along with three children’s stories and a collection of aphorisms also by Mansfield. The material came to light just in time to be included in a two-volume edition of Mansfield’s collected fiction. Published last October, this is a substantial work aimed at academic readers; monday marked the introduction of “A Little Episode” to a wider audience.