Changes to the Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Program-When I first read Mansfield (1988 to 1923-New Zealand) a few months ago I did not realize how involved I would become with her work and how interested in her life and times and person I would become. So far I have posted on about 25 of her stories. In most cases I have posted on several stories in a single posting. There are about forty or so stories in the four collections edited by her husband John Middleton Murry that I have yet to read. Thanks to the wonderful New Zealand Electronic Text center the full text of these works are online for all to read for free. I have also now read Claire Tomalin's very insightful biography of Mansfield, Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life as part of the project. I will soon be reading Katherine's Wish by Linda Lappin , a novel very closely based on the facts of the last five years of Mansfield's life. Lappin has studied Mansfield's life, work and era for 20 years and is considered a world class authority on Mansfield. I am excited to announce that during Book Blogger Appreciation week she will be giving a copy of this book away to one of the followers of my blog. (The contest rules, assuming it is not just at random for followers, will be announced latter). I could not help but already read the first few pages and she made the characters really come to life. The book is also physically beautiful.
I will be doing single posts on all the remaining stories I have not yet read. This also has the potential to help students of Mansfield and others who just might wish to read a post on a single story. As I advance on in my project I will says what I think her best five stories are and try to explain why I like her so much and explore a bit the depths of her artistry. Incidentally I saw yesterday I list of the world's ten best 20th century short stories taken from a well known Spanish literary web page and I was gratified to see that two of Mansfield's stories were on the list.
"The Little Girl" reads sadly like it is based on the childhood of Mansfield. Mansfield's father was a very successful businessman (Chairmen of the Bank of New Zealand and into many other ventures). Here are the opening lines of the story
TO the little girl he was a figure to be feared and avoided. Every morning before going to business he came into the nursery and gave her a perfunctory kiss, to which she responded with “Good-bye, father.” And oh, the glad sense of relief when she heard the noise of the buggy growing fainter and fainter down the long road!
When the father got home from work the job of the little girl was to help him remove his boots. Her mother told her that this was her reward for being a "good girl". The little girl, her name is Kezie, has a stutter but only when she speaks to her father. Then one afternoon a crisis occurs in the family. The father was set to give a speech to the local port authority board (just the sort of thing Mansfield's father did all the time) and the speech was not to be found anywhere in the house. It turns out that, for a surprise, Kezie had taken the papers and torn them to shreds!! Here is the dreadful set of events this set in motion:
Kezia, I suppose you didn't see some papers on a table in our room?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I tore them up for my s'prise.”
“What!” screamed mother. “Come straight down to the dining-room this instant.”
And she was dragged down to where father was pacing to and fro, hands behind his back.
“Well? “he said sharply.
Then father came into the room with a ruler in his hands.
“I am going to whip you for this,” he said.
“Oh, no, no!” she screamed, cowering down under the bedclothes.
He pulled them aside.
Next door to the house of Kezie there lived the McDonald family. Kezie marvels to see the gentle loving father play with his children and sees they have no fear of their father. She now realizes not all fathers are the same. There is some interesting action latter on in the story that make you wonder a bit about her mother.
I think this is a very good story in that it shows us how children begin to become aware of their parents as persons with their own personalities, weaknesses and powers. I know some reject autobiographical readings of literary works but as I have 40 or so stories still to work with I will highlight from each one whatever seems most illuminating. The writing style is classic Mansfield.
To readers of my blog, all of my other projects etc will continue. I will soon be posting on a wonderful work by Kenzaburo Oe, for example. I thank those who asked me where I was during the three weeks or so I did not post.
As always please leave any comments suggestions etc.