John Middleton Murry

Born 6th August1889 at Peckham, South London. He had one brother, Arthur, later known as Richard, born in 1902. John’s father was an ambitious civil servant who also worked at the Penny Bank in the evenings to make extra money. Though John’s mother Emily was by nature lively and optimistic, his father was a rigid disciplinarian, not afraid to use physical force when he deemed it necessary. John’s childhood was thoroughly miserable and he found an escape route through his precocious intellect. He taught himself to read at the age of 3 and was enrolled at a board school at a time when other children were still in the nursery. A few years later, he won a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital and from there to Brasenose College Oxford, where he was expected to achieve a glittering first class degree. He dropped out in his final year, having discovered the bohemian delights of Paris and a vocation for literature, though he did later return to take his degree (an upper second).

At the end of his second year, the summer of 1911, John began a literary magazine called Rhythm, co-edited with fellow undergraduate Michael Sadler and a painter called John D. Fergusson he had met in Paris. Rhythm was initially a great success. Katherine Mansfield submitted a story in the autumn and they met at the house of a mutual friend. By the spring of 1912 John had become Katherine’s lodger and she was listed as ‘co-editor’ of Rhythm. When the magazine failed financially, it was re-incarnated as The Blue Review.

Because Katherine was already married, she and John co-habited until her divorce in 1918. There were long periods when they lived apart for practical (and sometimes emotional) reasons. John pursued a career in literature, writing reviews and articles, poetry, short stories and criticism for most of the leading periodicals of the day. His first two full length books were a novel - Still Life - and a study of Dostoevsky, both published in 1916. During the 1914-18 war he worked at the war office, first as a translator and commentator on the foreign press, and then as Chief Censor.

John met D.H. Lawrence when he submitted a story for Rhythm in 1913, just after he had run away with Frieda Weekley. Although Katherine did not get on well with Frieda, the two couples lived close to each other on several occasions - first at Great Missenden in Berkshire in 1914, and then at Zennor in Cornwall in 1915. Feelings were very intense - particularly between the men. Lawrence modeled two of his characters for Women in Love on John (Gerald Crich) and Katherine (Gudrun Brangwen). After they quarreled in Cornwall the relationship cooled, but for the rest of their lives they corresponded and occasionally met. John had an affair with Frieda after Katherine’s death.

When Katherine died in 1923, John married Violet le Maistre - a young writer who looked very similar to Katherine. There were two children - a girl named for Katherine Mansfield and a boy called John. They were always known as Weg and Col. As well as editing two of the most influential literary magazines of the day - the Athenaeum and the Adelphi, and writing a phenomenal number of books and essays, John also spent a great deal of time editing Katherine’s unpublished work, and her journals and letters. Establishing and maintaining her reputation became an obsession that affected his relationship with his children and his wives. Violet - like Katherine - died of tuberculosis in 1931.

John immediately married his housekeeper, Betty Cockbayne, who became violent towards him and Violet’s children. John believed her to be suffering from a form of insanity. She had two children before they separated in 1941. John went to live with Mary Gamble who became his fourth wife when Betty died in 1954. During the last twenty five years of his life (from 1932-57) he became involved in socialist politics and was one of the leading members of the Peace Pledge Union - a pacifist organization. He continued editing Katherine Mansfield’s papers, publishing the last volume of her letters in 1951 and what he called the ‘definitive’ edition of her Journal in 1954.

John suffered from the consequences of smoking ‘like a prairie fire’, contracting Burger’s Disease in 1937. He died from a heart attack on 13th March1957, aged 67. He was still talking about Katherine Mansfield on the day he died.

Katherine Mansfield 1918-1923 (co-habited, 1912-1918), Violet le Maistre 1924-31, Elizabeth Cockbayne 1931-1954, Mary Gamble 1954-57 (co-habited, 1940-54).

Katherine ‘Weg’, b. 19th April 1925
John ‘Col’ b. 9th May 1926
Mary b. 27th January, 1932
David, b. 24th May 1938


Work by John Middleton Murry:

Still Life (novel) 1916
Doestoevsky: A Critical Study, 1916
Poems: 1917-18, 1918
The Critic in Judgement (Poetry) 1919
The Evolution of an Intellectual, 1920
Cinnamon and Angelica (verse play) 1920
Aspects of Literature, 1920
Poems: 1916-1920, 1921
The Problem of Style, 1922
The Things We Are, (novel) 1922
Countries of the Mind, 1922
Pencillings, 1922
The Voyage, (novel) 1924
Discoveries, 1924
To the Unknown God, 1925
Keats and Shakespeare, 1925
The Life of Jesus, 1926
Things to Come, 1928
God, 1929
D.H. Lawrence, 1930
Studies in Keats, 1931
Son of Woman (D.H. Lawrence) 1931
The Necessity of Communism, 1932
Reminiscences of D.H. Lawrence, 1933
William Blake, 1933
The Biography of Katherine Mansfield, J. M. Murry & Ruth E. Mantz, 1933.
Between Two Worlds, (autobiography) 1935
Shakespeare, 1936
The Necessity of Pacifism, 1937
Heaven - and Earth, 1938
The Pledge of Peace, 1938
The Defence of Democracy, 1939
Europe in Travail, 1940
The Betrayal of Christ by the Churches, 1940
Christocracy, 1942
Adam and Eve, 1944
The Free Society, 1948
Looking Before and After, 1948
The Challenge of Schweitzer, 1948
Katherine Mansfield and other Literary Portraits, 1949
John Clare and other Studies, 1950
The Conquest of Death, 1951
Community Farm, 1952
Jonathan Swift, 1954
Unprofessional Essays, 1956
Love, Freedom and Society, 1957
Not as the Scribes, 1959


John Middleton Murry was also editor of the following literary periodicals.
The Blue Review
The Daily Review of the Foreign Press
The Athenaeum
The Adelphi
The Wanderer

Books about John Middleton Murry:
The Life of John Middleton Murry, F.A. Lea 1959
To Keep Faith, Mary Middleton Murry, 1959
Beloved Quixote, Katherine Middleton Murry 1986
One Hand Clapping, Colin Middleton Murry 1975
Shadows on the Grass, Colin Middleton Murry 1977

A resource site for the biography of Katherine Mansfield by
Kathleen Jones