"Second Violin" by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) is among the stories included in The Dove's Nest and other Stories, a collection of Mansfield's stories published and edited by her husband John Murry shortly after her death in 1923.
Part of the popular image of Katherine Mansfield is of a young woman traveling about England and Europe in the company of literary bad boys while living off an allowance from her father, the disapproving Chairman of the Bank of New Zealand. I strongly urge those interested in getting an accurate understanding of Katherine Mansfield to read Kathleen Jone's new biography, Katherine Mansfield: The Story Teller. (Stay tuned for an opportunity to win a copy of this book.) You should also take the time to read the prefaces to the collections of her work edited by her husband, whose prose I find very elegant.
"Second Violin" centers on a woman who plays the violin in an orchestra. The story does not tell us but my guess it is set in London. As the story opens it is a terribly cold London morning. The opening passage is interesting as it shows how Mansfield can write beautifully about a big city winter day, not just the flowers in a New Zealand meadow. To me this is just flat out marvelous prose that shows Mansfield was well attuned to the dark side of big city life:
A FEBRUARY morning, windy, cold, with chill-looking clouds hurrying over a pale sky and chill snowdrops for sale in the grey streets. People look small and shrunken as they flit by; they look scared as if they were trying to hide inside their coats from something big and brutal. The shop doors are closed, the awnings are furled, and the policemen at the crossings are lead policemen. Huge empty vans shake past with a hollow sound ; and there is a smell of soot and wet stone staircases, a raw, grimy smell. . ."Second Violin" is considered to be an unfinished work brought into publication by Murry.
"Second Violin" along with most of her other stories and some of her letters can be read online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Center .