Katharine’s names have often been misspelt – her given name, her middle name, AND her last name. Yet the replacement of the more common ‘Katherine’ for ‘Katharine’ has some ambiguities. In her archives, I found her birth certificate and it looks like it’s been written down as ‘Katherine’. Presumably, the clerk got it wrong!
She was actually named for a dead aunty, Katherine Susan Davies, her mother’s elder half-sister. Katherine Susan died soon after childbirth in 1873, ten years before Katharine was born. Her widower was Slingsby Davies, who soon remarried his late wife’s sister, Hannah Frances. With Katharine growing up on North Road in Caulfield two doors down from Uncle Slingsby and Aunt Hannah, the families were quite entangled. She keeps on talking about Slingsby in her autobiography, trying to settle old scores and hurts. Their family was richer and more successful than hers, and one of the houses they lived in for some time on North Road belonged to Slingsby. The echoes of names are strong too, with Katharine adopting the character name ‘Hannah Frances’ for the titular autobiographical character in The Wild Oats of Han (1928). I spent a lot of time pursuing the Davies, and found out various things about them, only to realise they weren’t germane enough to the story to keep. It’s one of the hardest parts of a biography, pruning hard-won archival discoveries from the manuscript.
In her childhood and young adulthood, Katharine was usually called ‘Kattie’ by friends and family. I call the first part of my biography ‘Kattie’. By the end of her life, Katharine wasn’t the sort of woman you could imagine calling ‘Kattie’ – she was too formidable. It might also be true to say that some of the buoyancy had left her after going through so many tragedies. By then, one of the few nicknames she seemed to welcome was ‘Comrade Katya’, which she encouraged her Soviet correspondents to call her.