Four Early Katherine Mansfield Stories from Something Childish and Other Stories (1924)
"A Truthful Adventure" 6 pages, 1911
"New Dresses" 12 pages, 1912
"The Woman at the Store" 9 pages, 1912
"Ole Underwood" 5 pages, 1913
After Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-Wellington, New Zealand) died her husband, John Middleton Murry anthologized her early short stories in two collections. (There were already two collections of short stories published prior to her death.) Some of the stories in this collection focus more on New Zealand life than those of her stories I have previously posted on. Some of the stories in this collection could be compared (in terms of subject matter) to the works covered so far in The Reading Life Australian Bush Writer Project.
"A Truthful Adventure" is about a young woman, named Katherine, on a tourist trip to Burges, Belgium. Burges was a beautiful town right across the English channel full of beautiful old buildings and museums with great Flemish master paintings. It proximity to England made it a frequent short holiday destinations for people from London. Katherine goes to check in at a local hotel and is informed the only place she can stay is in a private home owned by the hotel owner. I have noted there is a lot of traveling in the stories of Mansfield just as there was a lot of traveling in her life. I enjoyed very much the depiction of the relationship of Katherine to the porter in the hotel. Part of this story is an acceptance of being along and the pleasure of traveling alone. I think one of the larger differences between the work and lives of Woolf and Mansfield (and for that matter Kate Chopin and Jean Rhys) is how they related to being alone.
"New Dresses" starts right in the middle of a marital disagreement over expenses. As I read this I wondered if this was a flashback to Mansfield's New Zealand childhood (her father was very successful banker). The argument is well done enough to be painful to anyone who has ever had such a conversation with their spouse. We also have to accept that it is a satire on the middle class as the story was written in a time and place where "bourgeois bashing" was very trendy.
"The Woman at the Store" is a brilliant account of the effects of the loneliness on a woman left by herself in a remote New Zealand store. The central characters in the story are an educated a bit affluent couple traveling through the back country of New Zealand and a woman who runs a store they stop at in their journey. The travelers ask the woman if she is alone and she says yes her husband has gone shearing and she volunteers that in six years of marriage she has lost four children to a miscarriage. One of the things this story is about is the relationships of members of different social classes to each other and the inability of the educated couple to really understand the woman left alone in the store. I must quote this passage in part to show how Mansfield brings the New Zealand back country to life:
"There is no twilight in our New Zealand days, but a curious half-hour when everything appears grotesque—it frightens—as though the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw. Sitting alone in the hideous room I grew afraid. The woman next door was a long time finding that stuff. What was she doing in there? Once I thought I heard her bang her hands down on the counter, and once she half moaned, turning it into a cough and clearing her throat. I wanted to shout “Buck up!” but I kept silent."
There is nothing "youthful" or artistically immature about "The Woman in a Store". . The ending will shock you a bit by its sheer power as it forces you into the mind of the woman traveler as she tries to come to terms with her experience.
"Ole Underwood" is another story set in the New Zealand back country. The story is dedicated to Anne Estelle Rice, an illustrator for the journal edited by Middleton and a close friend of Mansfield. Ole Underwood is a crazy old man wandering the back country. One has the feeling that such figures were not unusual. He murdered a man that killed his wife.
"In one corner sat a stranger. He pointed at Ole Underwood. “Cracked!” said one of the men. “When he was a young fellow, thirty years ago, a man 'ere done in 'is woman, and 'e foun' out an' killed 'er. Got twenty years in quod up on the 'ill. Came out cracked.”
“Oo done 'er in? “asked the man.
“Dunno. 'E dunno, nor nobody. 'E was a sailor till 'e marrid 'er. Cracked!” The man spat and smeared the spittle on the floor, shrugging his shoulders. “'E's 'armless enough."
Mansfield does make use of the prevalent speech patterns in her bush stories and I am glad she did as it makes the stories and characters more real for us.
I am about one third way through Mansfield's short stories now. I also intend to read her notebooks and the standard biographies of Mansfield. I hope this project will be largely completed by the end of September. So far I have posted on thirty six of her stories with some of the most famous ones sill to come.