Shortly after Katherine’s death Murry married Violet le Maistre, a girl who was Katherine’s physical double and who also had ambitions as a writer. Violet was very young for her age – the product of a sheltered childhood. In an uncanny echo of his meeting with Katherine, Murry met Violet when she submitted some stories for the literary magazine he was then editing. He liked them and lent her a collection of Chekhov’s stories to read. A few days later he invited her to dinner, ostensibly to meet his younger brother Richard and it was then that she confessed to Murry that she had already fallen in love with him. Always susceptible, Murry succumbed to her adoration and gave her Katherine’s pearl ring to symbolise their engagement. Their first home, the Old Coastguard Station at Abbotsbury in Dorset, was bought with royalties from Katherine’s books. The furniture too was Katherine’s. Not surprisingly Violet was unhappy. The idyllic marriage she had imagined became something else. Her daughter wrote later that ‘My mother felt lost. Deeply in love with my father, she . . . found in this kind and loving man . . . a preoccupation with worlds she could not enter, that no living soul could penetrate.’
Murry’s brother Richard firmly believed that Violet had been ‘possessed’ by Katherine Mansfield. Violet’s son wrote afterwards, more perceptively, that Murry ‘unwittingly chose to see in Violet the heaven-sent reincarnation of his first wife’ and this delusion was to have tragic repercussions for the family. Still obsessed with Katherine and making a career out of her literary remains, Murry held himself emotionally detached from Violet. Her first response was to participate in Murry’s fantasy, subdue her own personality and make herself as much like her dead rival as possible. Violet cut her hair, wrote short stories in the Chekhov style and modelled herself on Katherine Mansfield so completely that even her handwriting became identical. When a baby daughter was born this blurring of identities was so complete that Murry wrote ‘I . . felt, quite simply, that Violet’s daughter was Katherine’s daughter, and I named her accordingly.’ The young Katherine Middleton Murry was believed by both parents to be a kind of spiritual re-incarnation of her namesake. She herself wrote later, with some anger, that ‘the myth and the mysterious presence of Katherine Mansfield, determined the very landscape of the soul with which I was born’. The immediate result of this identification was that Violet rejected her daughter. She was by now desperate for Murry’s love and attention in her own right.
Shortly after the birth of her second child a year later Violet was diagnosed with tuberculosis by the same doctor who had attended the dying Mansfield. Violet, on being informed she had advanced tuberculosis, told Murry in a hysterical outburst; ‘I’m so glad! I wanted you to love me as much as you loved Katherine – and how could you, without this?’ At Dr Young’s insistence Violet spent months in sanatoriums, without any visible effect. Friends thought it possible that she was so unhappy with Murry she walked willingly towards extinction. Doctors told Murry that Violet’s mental state certainly contributed to her demise. Her children were kept away from her in order not to contract the infection, though she seems already to have turned her back on them.
Murry’s diary entries concentrate mainly on his own sufferings. ‘How tired I am of listening to that cough of Violet’s. . . It seems to vibrate upon my spine,’ is the constantly recurring refrain. From the first diagnosis he refused to believe that Violet would recover, fearing that he could not cope with the pain he knew he would have to endure, having already been through it with Katherine. It was a very cruel fate, to lose two wives within such a short time from the same cause. Ted Hughes also had to endure this and even though he was a much stronger character than Murry, found it almost unbearable. Murry simply didn’t have the emotional resources to deal with it. Friends, observing the negative effect that he had on Violet’s spirits, took her to live with them in London for the last, painful weeks. Murry (who had had an affair with Dorothy Brett while Katherine was dying at Fontainebleau) almost immediately sought physical comfort with his house-keeper, Betty, who believed herself to be pregnant in the same month that Violet died.