Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, May 22, 2010

"The Doll House" by Katherine Mansfield

"The Doll House" by Katherine Mansfield  (1922, 5 pages)

Greetings to all our visitors from Muscat-please feel free to make a comment or just say hello-Mel U

"The Doll House" is third short story by Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923-New Zealand) that I have read this month.   Obviously I like her a lot.   I first read "Miss Brill" and then what some do consider her best work, "The Garden Party".   I was pondering what to read next when I saw that Joann of Lakeside Musings really liked Mansfield's "The Doll House" so I decided to read that next.    I can begin to see that one of the themes of Mansfield's work is the blindness of the upper classes to the humanity of those below them.   In "The Garden Party" the central female character has the very nascent near Buddha leaving the palace moment when she visits a poor family but she seems to pull back from opening a door that was there for her briefly.

The action in the story is quite simple.   A neighbor gives a fancy doll house to the Brunell children and they enjoy showing it off to their friends and school chums.   The story seems to me set in a rural part of New Zealand (though it might be anywhere) where there is only one school so sadly the children from elite families must mix in with children of the lower classes.    There is one problem at the school.   I will let Mansfield tell it as I love her prose:

For the fact was, the school the Burnell children went to was not at all the kind of place their parents would have chosen if there had been any choice. But there was none. It was the only school for miles. And the consequence was all the children in the neighborhood, the judge's little girls, the doctor's daughters, the store-keeper's children, the milkman's, were forced to mix together. Not to speak of there being an equal number of rude, rough little boys as well. But the line had to be drawn somewhere. It was drawn at the Kelveys. Many of the children, including the Burnells, were not allowed even to speak to them. They walked past the Kelveys with their heads in the air, and as they set the fashion in all matters of behaviour, the Kelveys were shunned by everybody. Even the teacher had a special voice for them, and a special smile for the other children when Lil Kelvey came up to her desk with a bunch of dreadfully common-looking flowers.

They were the daughters of a spry, hardworking little washerwoman, who went about from house to house by the day. This was awful enough. But where was Mr. Kelvey? Nobody knew for certain. But everybody said he was in prison. So they were the daughters of a washerwoman and a gaolbird. Very nice company for other people's children! 

Everybody hears at the wonderful doll house and everyone wants to see it.   One of the Brunell sisters decides the Kelvey's are not worthy to see the doll house.    One of the sisters and two of her friends begin to make fun of the Kelvey children for their low social status.   We know they got this from the adults in their lives and we know it is the class structure perpetuating itself.  One of the daughters sort of realizes there is something not right in refusing to allow the Kelvey girls to see the doll house.   Mansfield's description of the interaction of the children with each other and their real fear of the Kelveys (after all who knows what diseases they could have) is perfect.     In the hands of a lesser writer, the story might have come to a definite conclusion.   

I will read more of her stories regularly and post on them.   I think I will also read a couple more short stories by Kate Chopin (1850 to 1904) also.   Of the two, I see Mansfield as the greater artist but I also like Chopin a lot.     Nearly all of Mansfield's short stories can be read on line.    

If anyone has any suggestions as to good short stories please leave them in a comment.   I prefer stories I can read on line.   Thanks

Mel u


Audrey (holes In My brain) said...

I really enjoyed The Most Dangerous Game by someone? (eek, i'm blanking) and The Sniper by someone (haha, i definitely wouldnt' remember this one)

Mel u said...

Audrey-thanks to the marvel of Google I located these stories-both are on line-The Sniper is by Liam O'Flaherty and the Most Dangerous Game by Richard Oconnel-I will check them out-thanks for the ideas

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

This one looks really interesting!! I'll have to try to remember some short stories to suggest for you!

Suko said...

Thanks for all these short story reviews and ideas. This one sounds particularly interesting. I will add some of them to my short story links post.

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

I have two books by K.Mansfield on my To Be Read pile. Got them secondhand. I really should tackle them soon. You asked for a short story recommendation....
The Withered Arm by Thomas Hardy
The Country of the Blind by H.G. Wells

I'm not a short story fan but those two are unforgettable.

JoAnn said...

Mansfield and Chopin are both such gifted writers! There is a Yahoo group called Nutshell Cubbyhole that reads a short story each week; all stories are available online. I think there are archives that link to the stories read over the years... might be a handy source.

The New Yorker magazine has many stories available on their website, too.

ds said...

You know, Katherine Mansfield was the only writer whose talent frightened Virginia Woolf (and yet, she and Leonard published KM's first book of short stories). Your excerpt shows why. Thank you. You've reminded me why I need to read more of Ms. Mansfield.

As for recommendations: anything by Flannery O'Connor, Woolf's "The Mark on the Wall," and William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" and "A Rose for Miss Emily." They are probably available online. Good luck!

Mel u said...

Carrie-would love to get your suggestions

Suko-thanks as always

Mrs B-I have located both of those stories on line and hope to post on both before the end of the month

Joann-I will check out those ideas-thanks

ds-I just posed on my first O'Conner and have now read the Woolf story and will post on it very soon-maybe today-I will ponder the Faulkner

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

Mel - maybe we can read the Withered Arm together and post on the same day. I'd love to reread it.