M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Late at Night" by Katherine Mansfield

"Late at Night" by Katherine Mansfield (5 pages, 1917)

The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project

"Late at Night" was first published 1917 and then republished in 1924 in a collection of her stories, Something Childish and Other Stories edited by Mansfield's husband, John Middleton Murry, after Mansfield died in 1923.   

"Late at Night" has a simple structure.   It is about the late night musing of a woman who sent a man she is attracted to but not really in a relationship with five socks.   (Keep in mind socks and such were proportionally more expensive in 1917 than now.)   What makes the story seem a bit quirky is that the lead character is named "Virginia".   Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield first met in November of 1916 so you have to assume the reader is at least meant to somehow think of Virginia Woolf.    My thought is that this maybe a private joke of some kind as it is hard to imagine Woolf mailing let alone darning someone's socks.    On the other hand, Mansfield was given to infatuations and it seems plausible she might do this.

The woman has sent the man a letter along with the socks.   She gets a letter back and she at once goes into an exhaustive interpretation of the many possible meanings of the letter.    There is a risk in learning about the life of a writer as well as a profit.   The risk is we begin not to look so much at the story itself but how it related to the author's life.    It is clear already to me that Mansfield used her life for the material and inspiration for much of her story.     Ignoring that "Late at Night" is a universal tale anyone confused about their relationships can relate to,    it is a story about a woman who feels she does not quite fit in anywhere but does not fully understand why not.

I wonder why it is that after a certain point I always seem to repel people. Funny, isn't it! They like me at first; they think me uncommon, or original; but then immediately I want to show them—even give them a hint— that I like them, they seem to get frightened and begin to disappear. I suppose I shall get embittered about it later on.

There is a great emotional depth to this story.   The narrator does not come close to fully understanding herself and her needs and that makes us able to more fully feel her pain.  



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1 comment:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Sounds absolutely wonderful -- I need a good authentic classic, and this sounds incredible to pick up!