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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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"An Ideal Family" by Katherine Mansfield

"An Ideal Family" by Katherine Mansfield (1921, 11 pages)


Reading and the Weather?

"An Ideal Family" by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) was included in the 1922 collection of her work, The Garden Party and Other Stories after first being published in 1921.    It is not a traditional short story with a plot and a surprise ending.    I almost wanted to call it a snapshot of a family but really it is more an x-ray.   

The father, in the mind of his adult children, is far enough on in life that he needs to turn the running of his family business over to his son.    The father fears the son does not have the ability to run the business well enough to support the comfortable life style all have come to enjoy.   With a little bit of text Mansfield lays out years of under the surface conflict.

I found this to be a beautifully written story.   The opening sentences concerning the aging of the father seemed very moving to me.

That evening for the first time in his life, as he pressed through the swing door and descended the three broad steps to the pavement, old Mr. Neave felt he was too old for the spring. Spring—warm, eager, restless— was there, waiting for him in the golden light, ready in front of everybody to run up, to blow in his white beard, to drag sweetly on his arm. 
Mansfield has issues with aging which come out over and over in her stories.   It is hard to forget   while reading her wonderful 1921  stories that  she has little time left.


Later in the day I began to wonder how readers who have never experienced a change of seasons can relate to imagery like this.   If a reader has experienced winter and spring only as images on TV, how will  prose like that I quoted move them?    Mansfield was a writer from  a world with four seasons.   The harshness of life can be seen as the harshness of winter, spring like a rebirth, fall to be enjoyed for its transient beauty and summer to be savored knowing it will soon end.     Mansfield never dreamed  of a world where many of her readers have never experienced the changes of the season and can relate only in a cognitive fashion to seasonal imagery and references.  Seasonal imagery is at the very roots of western literature.     If any one has any thoughts on that please leave a comment.

"An Ideal Family" can be read here

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1 comment:

Mystica said...

Thank you for this post and for the links.