Four Tales from Bliss and Other Stories -1923
By Katherine Mansfield
"Je Ne Parle Pas Francais" -54 pages
"Wind Blows" 7 pages
Psychology" 12 pages
In continuation of The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project I am posting on four more of her short stories, all from the 1920 collection Bliss and Other Stories. Most of these stories were published in literary journals prior to their inclusion in this volume. (Bliss and Other Stories was first published in 1920, edited by her husband John Middleton Murray and reprinted in 1923 after her death in a revised edition.)
I have already done some more detailed posts on Katherine Mansfield. I am nearly ready to declare that she is the best female writer of short stories but I will wait until I have completed all the stories of both her and Virginia Woolf before making this decision. This post will be more in the form of a reading journal than an attempt to say a lot about the stories -for practical reasons I deemed it not a good idea to write long post on all 60 or so stories!- I will do individual posts on the stories I like most and upon completion of the project-hopefully by the end of July, I will sum up and list her five best stories. All of her stories, much of her journals, notebooks, and letters can be read on line. I will give the best web page I have found for her reading her work at the end of the post.
"Je Ne Parle Pas Francais" is one of Mansfield's longer stories. The central character this story is a Frenchman named Raoul who fancies himself a writer who will one day be proclaimed a genius.
My name is Raoul Duquette. I am twenty-six years old and a Parisian, a true Parisian. About my family—it really doesn't matter. I have no family ; I don't want any. I never think about my childhood. I've forgotten it.
He tells us he is rich, has never had a real employment or any contact with women. He becomes friends with another man in the cafe. Nothing untoward happens between them. The interest in the story is in the passing observations of Raoul and his relationship with the other man and his girlfriend. There is strange passage in the story when Raoul recalls his childhood relationship to the family laundress which almost seems like an account of a molestation:
When I was about ten our laundress was an African woman, very big, very dark, with a check handkerchief over her frizzy hair. When she came to our house she always took particular notice of me, and after the clothes had been taken out of the basket she would lift me up into it and give me a rock while I held tight to the handles and screamed for joy and fright. I was tiny for my age, and pale, with a lovely little half-open mouth—I feel sure of that.
"Bliss" is one of most widely read stories. Really is a meditation on the experience of bliss, not a traditional story with a plot.
What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss—absolute bliss !— as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe ? . . .
Oh, is there no way you can express it without being " drunk and disorderly " ? How idiotic civilization is ! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle ?"Wind Blows" is about a country house in New Zealand and the thoughts the narrator has as the wind shakes the house. It is beautifully written and made me feel I was in the house.
"Psychology" is about the small pleasures of life, about minute domestic observations:
birds sang in the kettle ; the fire fluttered. He sat up clasping his knees. It was delightful—this business of having tea—and she always had delicious things to eat—little sharp sandwiches, short sweet almond fingers, and a dark, rich cake tasting of rum
All of these stories and much more can be read at the New Zealand Text Center