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





Saturday, April 22, 2017

Leonora Carrington and Katherine Mansfield -- Two Fly Centered Short Stories







A link to "Mr Gregory's Fly"

Leonora Carrington- Britain's Last Surrealist Tate Shots. A wonderful beautifully done video -  (By the author of The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington, Joanna Moorhead, includes a conversation with  Carrington as well as images of her art)

Leonora Carrington A Surrealist Trip from Lancashire to Mexico. From the BBC



I first began reading the short stories of Katherine Mansfield almost eight years ago, I read my first work by Leonora Carrington eight days ago.  I recently completed (post coming soon) a very illuminating and valuable work on Mansfield by Gerri Kimber, Katherine Mansfield The Early Years which has inspired me to reread her stories.  The centenary observation of the birth of Carrington has stimulated renewed interest in her stories (she is most famous for her Surrealistic art).  Two editions of her stories have just been published as well as a biography by Joanne Moorhead, The Surrealistic Life of Leonora Carrington, which I hope to post upon next month.  The NYRB has just brought back into print Carrington's memoir of her mental breakdown, Down Below with a very informative introduction by Marina Warner.  I have been able to locate eight of Carrington's stories online and will post on all of them individually just as I did with Mansfield.  My quick research indicates that several of Carrington's works are out of print but hopefully renewed interest will bring them back into print.  You can view, and I think you will be fascinated as I was, many of her paintings online.  

I don't yet know if Carrington read Mansfield's short stories or not but for sure there are significant Life similarities worth remarking upon.  Both came from wealthy families, Carrington's father was a wealthy industrialist, Mansfield's was Chairman of the Bank of New Zealand.  Both women had serious  issues dealing with dominating fathers with little sympathy for their artistic interests.

Both left their home countries at an early age, never to live there again.  Both began to seriously pursue their passions only after becoming an exile.  Both drew inspiration for their work from their adolescent angst, it shines through in the first story I posted on by Carrington, "The Debutante".  Both had an interest in the Occult, Carrington's the stronger.  Both were drawn to "Guru" type men.  

After reading  Carrington's "Mr Gregory's Fly" I decided to reread a Mansfield story I read eight years ago, "The Fly".  I was happy to see I could recall almost all the story.  The first time I read it I was doing a "read through" of Mansfield's stories, about eight core works.  I wanted to see if I would still love it after eight years of reading short stories.  I found the story deeply moving for the  portrayal of the grief of two old men, both from England, one was once the other's boss, who talk over their mutual loss of a son during WW One (Mansfield's beloved brother was killed in the war).  One of the men is now retired, he has had a stroke and his wife and daughters supervise him closely.  On Tuesdays he is allowed to go out on his own and he often goes to visit his former boss at his office.  You can see both men are normally emotionally reserved but the conversation about their lost sons causes the boss to breakdown.  When left alone he notices a fly has gotten some ink on his wings (people used fountain pins and inkwells in 1922).  He watches the fly try to dry his wings.  I don't want to impair the first time experience of new readers on this story so I will tell no more of the plot.  In the fate of the fly the man seems to see the fate of his son, on another level the man takes on the role of the cruel Gods that took his son from him, that took all meaning from his life accumulating business which he intended to pass to his son.  The close is open to numerous views and I am sure this would be a very good classroom story for advanced students. 

"Mr Gregory's Fly" is a surrealistic story, very different from "The Fly".  Gloria Orenstein in her introduction to the 1975 collection of six of Her says

"Leonora Carrington's express the system of being through occult parables whose true meaning becomes accessible to those initiated into the specific form of symbolism that a work displays. The symbols are emblems derived from a deep knowledge of alchemy, Cabala, Magic, the Tarot, witchcraft and mythology".

I have issues with the notion of short stories having "a true meaning" but this is an illuminating remark.  Long long ago I was quite into the occult, I studied various system of Magik.  I know Katherine Mansfield had some acquaintance with occult theories on the order of those expounded by The Order of the Golden Dawn but I did not recall any specific occult symbolism about flys.  I did a Google search and did not find any big revelations so I decided just to enjoy "Mr Gregory's Fly" as fun very brief surrealistic story poking fun at a pretentious business man. 

"Once there was a man with a big black moustache. His name was Mr. Gregory (the man and the moustache had the same name). Since his youth Mr. Gregory was bothered by a fly that used to enter his mouth when he spoke, and when somebody spoke to him, the fly would fly out of his ear. “This fly annoys me,” said Mr. Gregory to his wife, and she answered, “I understand, and it looks ugly. You ought to consult a doctor.” However no doctor was able to cure Mr. Gregory of his fly. Although he went to see several doctors, they always said that they had never heard of this disease. One day Mr. Gregory went to see another doctor, but he got the wrong address and by mistake went to see a midwife. She was a wise woman and she knew a lot of other things besides childbirthing."

This captures well the flavor of the prose.  The wise woman says she can get rid of the fly but the man must give her three quarters of his assets to her.  He agrees knowing he actually owns little or nothing.  He follows her suggestion, the fly is gone but there is a side effect:

"Later Mr. Gregory took the pills in the tea made of little drops of mustard in noodle water, according to the instructions of the wise woman. Next day the fly had totally disappeared, but Mr. Gregory had become navy blue with red zip fasteners over his orifices. “It’s worse than the fly,” said his wife, but Mr. Gregory didn’t say much because he knew that he had cheated the wise woman. I deserved it, he thought. If I only had that little fly again, I’d be happy. But he was still navy blue with red zip fasteners and stayed like that till the end of his days, and this was very ugly, especially when he was naked in his bath."

To me "Mr Gregory's Fly" is and was meant to be fun but I don't doubt there are deeper meanings.

Mel u




















1 comment:

Buried In Print said...

Oh, I love all the similarites you are unearthing between these two women's artistic experiences. I had a Katherine Mansfield project some years ago but I haven't returned to her stories; your comments about her work, and those about LC's as well, make me want to revisit. I'll have a peek at my shelves and see if I can put my hands on my Collected Mansfield to dabble a little! (I've had little luck with LC's works, although I've long hankered over the Virago Modern Classics' reprints, which I've tried to collect over the years.)