Katherine Mansfield not only recalls her windy Wellington upbringing in the short story, The Wind Blows, but also the man who taught her how to play the piano – Robert Parker. When the adolescent Matilda is dealing with the emotions of growing up, she finds solace in her kind piano teacher, Mr Bullen. It is believed that Katherine based this character on Robert Parker, the organist and Director of Music at St Paul’s.
Parker was also on the staff of Mrs Swainson’s school, where Katherine was a student from 1900 to 1902, and was her piano teacher. (The headmistress’s name also features in The Wind Blows as Marie Swainson, the girl next door who arrives for her lesson much too early.)
Katherine’s husband John Middleton Murry visited Parker thirty years later, who remembered her well. Murry wrote in a biography of Katherine that Parker, by then 80 and still teaching at the school, said:
I can see her sitting there at the piano … her very attitude. It is remarkable how she noticed details at her age. The pale picture of Rubinstein (there it is) did hang above the mantelpiece, though there was no inscription; and the picture of Solitude was over the piano. She has the room down exactly in that—what shall I call it?—that very sentimental little piece about me in The Wind Blows.”
And it seems Robert Parker also left quite an impression on the young Katherine. Published in 1920, The Wind Blows remembers the dedicated music teacher as a kind and gentle man.
“But why does he speak so kindly – so awfully kindly – and as though they had known each other for years and years and knew everything about each other.” The Wind Blows
Though Katherine looks back on growing up in New Zealand as an emotional and confusing time, Mr Bullen brings a sense of calm to the ‘dreadful’ wind. The organist of St Paul’s for nearly 60 years was obviously a very inspiring member of the community.
When the story was published it was much admired by people including Virginia Woolf, critic Lytton Strachey and Bertrand Russell.
Read The Wind Blows here: http://katherinemansfieldsociety.org/short-stories-by-katherine-mansfield/
Images: Main image: Katherine Mansfield, Chaucer Mansions flat, Queen’s Club Gardens, West Kensington, London, England. Ref: 1/4-059876-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22317542; Katherine Mansfield aged 10. Ref: 1/4-015041-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23104236; Head and shoulders portrait of Robert Parker. S P Andrew Ltd :Portrait negatives. Ref: 1/2-043504-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22718834.