Obituary: Kitty Mrosovsky

Kitty Mrosovsky was a writer of great intelligence and sensibility who never received the critical attention that she deserved.

Partly because of her premature death, there is relatively little of her work in the public sphere - two books, some poetry and various reviews. However she has also left behind a bulk of unpublished manuscripts - including a second novel as well as more poetry, short stories and critical essays - which, one hopes, will allow a wider audience to appreciate her gifts.

Born in Oxford from a family of Russian European extraction, Mrosovsky spent most of her childhood in the Mediterranean and was educated mainly in French. In her teens she came back to England and went on to read English at Somerville College, Oxford. She took a First Class honours degree and a BPhil in comparative literature, and looked set to embark on a distinguished academic career. But after only a year she abandoned her post as a lecturer at York University and decided to devote herself to writing.

This was a brave choice, to which she adhered, but it didn't make things easy. From then on she never again took up full-time employment. She taught English part-time at the Open University and translated and produced a highly acclaimed edition of Flaubert's The Temptation of Saint Antony, published in 1980 and later reissued as a Penguin Classic. She did book reviewing and worked as a theatre critic for Quarto - but these were hardly lucrative assignments and she was not cut out for the hustling and the quick-turn-around bodge job necessary to make freelance journalism profitable.

Mrosovsky's personal life, where she proved an enormously warm and generous friend, was marked by the same intellectual honesty and moral scrupulousness - not prudishness, but rather a reluctance to cut the deals and compromises that most of us, with a more approximate personal morality, make with the world.

In 1985 Mrosovsky's novel Hydra was published. It is a difficult, ambitious, painful book which uses as its starting-point a tutorial session on Euripides' play Herakles between a diffident lecturer and his student who is paralysed from the neck down. This is not a subject likely to have enormous commercial appeal. But her few reviews were complimentary and marked her out as an unusual talent.

After Hydra Mrosovsky travelled to Italy, where she wrote a second novel. But she was unable to find a publisher. This proved a severe blow and, although she had little worldly ambition, she found the lack of literary recognition harder to bear.

When she returned in the late Eighties, Mrosovsky discovered that she was HIV positive - having contracted the virus before it was even identified or its symptoms described. Although she continued to write, and completed an introduction to a book of etchings by Tim Rollins, the knowledge of her illness was a turning-point and she began to devote her energies to investigating developments in Aids research and becoming involved in environmental issues and the question of animal welfare.

By the late Eighties Mrosovsky's illness began to take its toll. She seems to have struggled with the infection and its debilitating side-effects on her own, telling very few people. Many of her friends, not suspecting that a woman in her forties who was not a drug-taker could possibly be HIV positive, failed to realise that she was dying.

Mrosovsky did not keep her illness private out of any false sense of shame - among her papers is a careful essay in which she points out, ``Aids is not a special and unmentionable disease limited to sub-categories of society''; instead, it seems that she wanted to preserve her privacy and independence and didn't wish to weigh down her friends with a sense of obligation, nor to become an object of their pity. She continued instead with the activities that had enriched her life until then: going to concerts and galleries, reading, and playing wonderful Mozart sonatas on the grand piano which took up most of her living room.

It was typical of Kitty Mrosovsky, meticulous to the last, that she even left instructions about the welfare of the black and white neighbourhood cat that she had adopted. She was a fervent cat lover. Like T.S. Eliot, she couldn't take a walk in the park without zigzagging from one cat to the next.

Amanda Mitchison

Catherine Mrosovsky, writer: born Oxford 10 August 1946; died London 16 March 1995.

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