The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project
"At The Bay" by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923) is one of the longest of Mansfield's stories. It was published in a collection titled The Garden Party and other Stories. Mansfield dedicated the book to her husband, John Middleton Murry. This collection, from which I will now be reading, has some of her most famous stories.
1922 saw the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses in Paris, "In A Grove" by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa in Tokyo, Siddhartha in Germany by Herman Hesse and The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the USA. "At the Bay" belongs in this list of master works of literature published between the world wars.
"At The Bay" is set on the New Zealand seacoast. The first paragraph is a wonderful paean to the natural beauty of New Zealand. I think Mansfield exposure to the great beauty of New Zealand while growing up had a very deep effect on her sensibilities.
"At The Bay" is divided into 12 sections. Each section centers about a family or an individual living in a house on the bay. It is sort of like a small community where everyone seems to know everyone else. This is a story with no plot, no middle, no end. "At the Bay" just sort of plunges us into the lives of the people living around the bay. "At the Bay" is not hard to read like Ulysses or Jacob's Room also published in 1922. Anyone who loves beautiful prose will cherish it. Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Katherine Mansfield would, I like to imagine, have been mutual admirers. Anyone who has ever worked at a mind numbing job they hated will relate very strongly to section X of "At the Bay".
“It seems to me just as imbecile, just as infernal, to have to go to the office on Monday,” said Jonathan, “as it always has done and always will do. To spend all the best years of one’s life sitting on a stool from nine to five, scratching in somebody’s ledger! It’s a queer use to make of one’s...one and only life, isn’t it?