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

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"German Meat" by Katherine Mansfield-Background for her first collection of short stories-The German Pension

"German Meat" by Katherine Mansfield (8 pages, 1911) is the lead story in her first collection of short stories, In A German Pension.   All of the stories in this collection center on the experiences of a young English woman staying at a boarding house in Germany.  ("Pension" is an old fashioned word for boarding house).   

Katherine Mansfield (1988 to 1923-New Zealand) was born into a wealthy highly educated New Zealand family.   (I have posted on her background in my prior Mansfield posts.)   At age 20 she made the 6 weeks plus steam ship trip to London to attend Queen's college, living with her two sisters initially.   Long story short she fell in love with the big city, had some flings with theatrical and literary bad boy types as well as romantic encounters with other women.   Mansfield's parents appear to have been very supportive of her (for sure they were financially) and when they got a letter from some old  New Zealand family friends that Mansfield lived with for a while in London and who seemed to have kicked her out due to her romance with their son describing her life style in particular her relationships with other women (in her late teen age years  while still in Wellington she had a relationship with a Maori woman) they were very worried.    Mansfield also in 1909 married a man she had known only a month and annulled the marriage after one day.   She also had a miscarriage about this time  although it is not clear to me from what I have read if her parents knew about all this.   Her parents were so alarmed that her mother made the very long steam ship voyage to London to check on her daughter.     At that time homosexuality was considered a disease and was a crime so after some investigation her mother sent her to the  Bavarian spa of Bad W√∂rishofen which purported to be able to cure a woman of lesbian tendencies through a series of baths in the mineral hot springs.   The treatment (I would love to know details I admit) also involved soaking  the women down with high pressure hoses!  During this six week or so period Mansfield stayed in a pension, all the other guests were Germans.   The stories in her first collection (edited by her) "In a German Pension" all center around the interactions of a young English woman with the other guests.    At the time most short stories were of the O Henry/Saki pattern with a surprise or a twist at the end.   Mansfield  disdained this as a cheap trick.    In defense of other story writers,  Mansfield did not need to sell her stories to magazine editors to have money to live.   The allowance she received all her life from her parents gave her the artistic freedom to follow her muse where it lead her.   

There are 13 stories included with In A German Pension.   "German Meat" is the first story.   (The spa also treated gout.)    Here is a conversation at the boarding house table when a German guest learns the English woman is a vegetarian:

“Is it true,” asked the Widow, picking her teeth with a hairpin as she spoke, “that you are a vegetarian?”
“Why, yes; I have not eaten meat for three years.”
“Im—possible! Have you any family?”
“There now, you see, that's what you're coming to! Who ever heard of having children upon vegetables? It is not possible. But you never have 


large families in England now; I suppose you are too busy with your suffragetting. Now I have had nine children, and they are all alive, thank God. Fine, healthy babies—though after the first one was born I had to—”
“How wonderful!” I cried.
“Wonderful,” said the Widow contemptuously, replacing the hairpin in the knob which was balanced on the top of her head. “Not at all! A friend of mine had four at the same time. Her husband was so pleased he gave a supperparty and had them placed on the table. Of course she was very proud.”
Germany,” boomed the Traveller, biting round a potato which he had speared with his knife, “is the home of the Family.
The English woman and the Germans talk about the possibility of war and both sides says it will not happen as neither has any desire for the country of the other. The story ends with the German widow asking the English woman about her husband's eating habits.

What is your husband's favourite meat?” asked the Widow.
“I really do not know,” I answered.
“You really do not know? How long have you been married?”
“Three years.”
“But you cannot be in earnest! You would not have kept house as his wife for a week without knowing that fact.”
“I really never asked him; he is not at all particular about his food.”
"German Meat" is not a mature marvel like some of her more famous stories but is really a great pleasure to read (maybe not so much if you are German!)

The full text of In A German Pension is on line at the New Zealand Text Center along with a lot of great background information.   There is also a great article   detailing the New Zealand era reading life of Mansfield and literary culture in New Zealand.    This web page is a wonderful resource and a model of its type.

There are 12 other stories in In A German Pension.   I plan to read them all.   I have not decided yet if I will post on each one individually but I will for sure at least comment on all of them.   Mansfield also wrote some wonderful poems (they are on the New Zealand Texts web page).    Google books also has most of her stories on line.   

I again request that anyone who has any suggestion as to short stories I can read online please leave them in a comment.    Thanks

Mel u


Josette said...

This is another collection of short stories by Katherine Mansfield that I'd like to read. I studied a few of her stories for my English class and liked them a lot. My favourite was Miss Brill.

Mansfield certainly led a very interesting life.

Journey said...

Oh, that sounds very much like a book I'd like to read! Very interesting, despite being German. ;-)