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, June 30, 2010

"The Lagoon" By Joseph Conrad

"The Lagoon" by Joseph Conrad (1896-11 pages)

I wanted to do as my next short story post a work by a new to The Reading Life author.    Of course there are 1000s of options so I was kind of looking for sign of some sort to guide me.   I got two of them.   On East of The Web:Short Stories one of the featured stories this week is  "The Lagoon" by Joseph Conrad. (1857 to 1924-born in Poland but became British citizen in 1886)   I have read some  of the major Conrad novels like Lord Jim, Nostromo and his novella Heart of Darkness but I have never read one of his short stories.    My second omen came in the form of a blog entry from the Katherine Mansfield Society blog in which they post a rhapsodical paean from Mansfield on Conrad:

it is, perhaps, a peculiar responsive sensitiveness to the significance of everything, down to the slightest detail that has a place in his vision. Even in the sober low-toned beginning the author succeeds in conveying a warning as of an approaching storm; it is as though the silence was made to bear a mysterious implication. And in this heightened, quickened state of awareness we are made conscious of his passionate insistence upon the importance of extracting from the moment every drop of life that it contains, wherewith to nourish his adventure.
I am currently reading Ford Madox Ford's great (though highly eccentric book) The March of Literature.    When I complete this book (835 pages) I will try to say why I like it so much and why I think it is as near must reading as a history of literature can be but for now I will just say that on any writer he covers I will give him the respect of thinking through what Ford says on them.    Ford and Conrad were close personal friends and collaborated on several novels.    Here is part of what Ford says about Conrad:
He was the most consummate, the most engrossed, the most practical, the most common-sensible and the most absolutely passionate man-of-action become conscious man of letters that this writer has ever known, read or conceived of.
"The Lagoon" is set in the riverine  jungles of Malaysia.   It is a story of love and betrayal.  Arsat, the teller of the story, kidnaps the woman he loves from the household of the Rajah where she is a bound servant.   His brother goes with him to help them escape the troops of the Rajah which come in pursuit of them.   In the course of the perusal the boat of the Rajah's men overtakes them as they are on the river bank.   Not to give away more of the plot but there is a terrible betrayal that shapes the life of the surviving brother.

There a number of  thematic readings one could impose on "The Lagoon".   It is about the inability of love to beat death, about the colonial experience of the western man to whom Arsat tells his story, about movement versus stillness, and the pervasive power of guilt.   As I read the story of the two brothers stealing the servant of the Rajah and the Rajah's pursuit of her I thought of The Iliad.     The prose of Conrad (his native language was Polish) is slow moving and may feel a bit  lugubrious to many, I think.  His prose at times sounds like English as if it might have been written  by Sophocles or perhaps another great sailor, Odysseus:

A white eagle rose over it with a slanting and ponderous flight, reached the clear sunshine and appeared dazzlingly brilliant for a moment, then soaring higher, became a dark and motionless speck before it vanished into the blue as if it had left the earth for ever
"The Lagoon" can be read online here.  

If anyone has any suggestions as to short stories I might like please leave a comment.  

Mel u

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Paris In July-A Fun Creative Event-Four Short Stories

Paris in July

Bookbath and Thyme for Tea are jointly hosting a celebration of French culture in July.    There are lots of ways you can participate.   You can cook French food, read some French literature, see some French movies,  or even go to Paris.   The only requirement is that you post on it and link back to the host blogs so all participants can share in your experience.   Lately I have been exploring the short story and reading some Japanese novels.  ( The events takes place from July 1 to July 31, 2010.)     Guy du Maupassant is often mentioned right below Chekhov among the world's best authors of short stories.   I recently read his short novel Pierre et Jean, which I greatly enjoyed.    As I read more pre-WWI Japanese novels and study a bit the background of the authors I am starting to see the modern Japanese novel as coming into existence when a number of young men at elite schools in the 1890s to 1910  began to fall in love with writers like Shendhal, Zola and du Mauspassant.   As my participation in the challenge  I will read short stories by four different 19th century French authors, one per week.    I will read only stories that  can  be  read on line so others can read them if they like.   

I am looking forward to reading all of the posts.    You can sign up and get the full details at either  Bookbath or Thyme for Tea.    I think this will be a lot of fun and hope more people will sign up.    

Pinball, 1973 By Haruki Murakami

Pinball, 1973 by Haruki Murakami (1980, translated by Alfred Birnbaum, 79 pages)

Pinball, 1973 is book two in a trilogy by Haruki Murakami along with Hear the Wind Sing, the first in the series and Wild Sheep Chase, the final work.    Dance, Dance,  Dance also continues the plot lines of The Rat Trilogy (the rat is a friend and sometimes business partner of the central  character, Buko, who is the narrator).     Pinball, 1973 is Murakami's  (1949-) second novel.    It has long been out of print in English translation.   Sometimes you can find a used copy for sale on Amazon (they have some now for $25.00 USA).      Murakami has stated that he will not allow Pinball or Hear the Wind Sing to be republished in English as he considered these works to be inferior to his later novels.    I wanted to read Pinball but did not want to pay the price for this short work.   I was  happy when a very considerate commentator posted link to a  pdf file of the work.

Pinball, 1973 is about a man recently out of college, Buko,  and in love with the freedom of doing what he wants to do and running a small translation business with his friend who he calls, The Rat.    The two friends never occupy the same narrative space in the book and their disconnectedness is one of the themes of the work.   The main narrator lives with twin teenage girls who he feeds and houses.   The girls are almost like pets that provide sexual pleasure.   They lack the intellectual depth to be real friends with  Buko but they help him fight away his loneliness.    There is a big hole in the center of the life of Buko that was created by the suicide of his girl friend.   In order to pass the time and to drive his mind as close as he can get it to an empty space, Buko spends a huge amount of time playing pinball at a nearby arcade and becomes the high scorer on one of the machines (a big deal in the world of pinball!).    Like later  better Murakami works there are references to wells, cats and a bar plays a big part.   (Yes one must also say references to teen age girls are part of his standard plots also.)   Buko get involved in a mystery concerning pinball machines.   (The novel takes place before even the  Pacman game was invented-1980-and pinball machines were much bigger then.)   As Buko points out, all of the machines have numerous images of very large breasted women on them.   I did learn a good bit about how the pinball business worked in Japan in the 1970s.

If you really like Murakami (as I do) and want to eventually read all his novels then Pinball, 1973 is worth the time it takes to read it.  The teen age twins seem added just to play into a male fantasy and sell some books.   The plot like did not pull me in like Wild Sheep Chase did (This is not meant in criticism, Marukumi was just getting started and second rate Murakami beats most other authors best works any way!).     It is fun to see a great writer's talent develop.

      you can read it here

A link to some of my other post on Japanese works can be found here   

Mel u

Monday, June 28, 2010

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf- Hear The Only Recorded Interview with Virginia Woolf

Jacob's Room by Virginia Woolf (1922, read via

This is the second Virginia Woolf novel that I have read, the first was The Waves.     I have long wanted to read some of her work (I now hope to read a great deal more) and winning The Waves in a contest gave me my motivation.      Some say it is her most experimental work.    Having just completed Ford Madox Ford's The Parade's End I felt I had at least the germ of an understanding of how to read The Waves.   I next decided to read Jacob's Room not in terms of any great literary logic but because it was the shortest of her three works available on!-    I liked Jacob's Room a lot but before I say a bit about it I want to share with others a great video I found on recording of one of Virginia Woolf's BBC interviews which includes an interesting montage of photos.   It is reputed to be the only recording of her voice.

Jacob's Room is a stream of consciousness work that centers on the impressions the women in his life have of him.   The novel begins in pre-WWI England, takes Jacob through his college years at Cambridge on into adulthood.    The two central women characters in the book are Florinda, a young art student with whom Jacob had a romance and Clara Durrant who was too conservative to entered into a relationship with Jacob.   We also go along on his travels to Greece and Italy.    I enjoyed trying to reconstruct what happened in Jacob's life from the information given by Woolf.   I really really like her prose style and sort of approach her work as if it  were a beautiful very ethereal poem whose pure sumptuousness  would be  desecrated by anything as plebeian as a prose recasting.   There are some great things said about books in Jacob's Room.   I loved this line in all its lovely  refined cattiness:

Dowdy women who don't mind how they cross their legs read Tom Jones.
When I read this I laughed out loud then I thought about how much about how deep these words can take us into the consciousness of the speaker.   My next Woolf will be A Room of  Her Own.   Additionally I will be posting soon on more of her short stories.  

If you listen to the recording of the interview with Woolf please leave a comment as to how you reacted to hearing her voice.

Mel u

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Diary of a Superfluous Man by Ivan Turgenev

(Diary of a Superfluous Man by Ivan Turgenev (1850-70 pages-read via

When I saw that there was going to be a Classics Circuit Tour on the Literature of Imperial Russia I knew I wanted to participate.   (The full schedule for the tour can be found at the link here.)    Last year I read a great book, Flaubert: A Biography by Frederick Brown.     Ivan Turgenev and Gustave Flaubert were very close friends for many years.    Brown sketched out some fascinating background information on Turgenev.   Turgenev  (1818 to 1883) was born in Oryal, Russian, about 360 kilometers southwest of Moscow.    He was born into a family of wealthy landed aristocrats that  owned over 5000 serfs.    Ivan's mother brought great additional wealth to the family.    According to Brown, and verified in other sources, Ivan's mother was abused by her parents and suffered at the hands of Ivan's father through his extreme philandering.    The serfs at this time were little more than slaves and it was common for aristocratic men to take serf mistresses and use any serf woman they desired and Ivan's father enjoyed his prerequisites.   His mother found this deeply humiliating and became an extremely cruel mistress to the serfs under the family control, having them whipped for the most minor offenses.   She also had numerous serfs hung.   I am going to assume here that serf women who were discovered to have been with her husband were subject to very harsh punishments and were considered to be to blame for what happened.    His mother was also abusive to Ivan and his brother, especially after their father died when they were sixteen.     In his early twenties he began to live largely in Western Europe, mostly in Paris.   Turgenev fell madly in love with a beautiful famous opera singer, Pauline Viardot and choose to live in Paris most of the rest of his life to be near her.   It is in Parisian literary salons that Turgenev and Flaubert met.    Turgenev never married, largely because of his love for the married Opera Singer.   He had one child by a serf mistress.   (This was a common more or less accepted practice.)

"Diary of a Superfluous Man" is a series of journal entries by an affluent middle aged Russian man seemingly of the very minor nobility.     The idea of a superfluous man was a common concept in 19th century literature. Here is how it is depicted in Turgenev's "Diary of a Superfluous Man".   A superfluous man is one with no place in society and no need to find a place or pursue a living due to the possession of some family money.   Perhaps he  might be the 4th son of a wealthy man or the illegitimate but still acknowledged child of an aristocrat.    Having no need to work he might often become highly cultivated in the literary arts, well traveled and in part because of this hypersensitive to his own emotional reactions to events and people in his life.   Often he would wander about near aimlessly and indulge in romantic liaisons with women in the preforming arts.    Much of his time might be spent brooding over his love affairs and the abusive ways the women he loved treated him.   Not to put too autobiographical slant on this but the opera singer that Turgenev was in love with all his life exploited him to support herself and her husband who was fully aware of an supported the affair for his own gain.    Because of the romantic sensibility of a superfluous man brought about in part by his leisure for self cultivation he is able to give a very self aware account of his life:

There passed in a flash before me my childhood, noisy and peaceful, quarrelsome and good-hearted, with hurried joys and swift sorrows; then my youth rose up, vague, queer, self-conscious, with all its mistakes and beginnings, with disconnected work, and agitated indolence.... There came back, too, to my memory the comrades who shared those early aspirations ... then like lightning in the night there came the gleam of a few bright memories ... then the shadows began to grow and bear down on me, it was darker and darker about me, more dully and quietly the monotonous years ran by--and like a stone, dejection sank upon my heart. I sat without stirring and gazed, gazed with effort and perplexity, as though I saw all my life before me, as though scales had fallen from my eyes. Oh, what have I done! my lips involuntarily murmured in a bitter whisper.

The superfluous man falls in romantic love with an inappropriate woman not worthy of the attentions of a man of his finely cultivated sensibility.   He comes near to a duel in it but some how avoids it.   Much of his time is spent brooding over this woman and the man she prefers to him.    Nothing really important happens in this diary, in fact how could it?    To me this short work is very much worth reading just so one may  ponder at leisure  reflections of its  self-absorbed narrator and to enjoy the beautiful descriptions of nature found in the work.    It is also a good look at life in Imperial Russia in the mid 19th century.

Turgenev is most famous for his Fathers and Sons (1862) which is on most lists of 100 greatest novels of all time.   I am currently being both edified and entertained by Ford Madox Ford's great over view of the world's literature The March of Literature (1938, 872 pages).   In the very opening pages Ford pays homage  to  Turgenev by placing him  in the company of Shakespeare,  Dante, Stendhal, and the best of the classic Greek poets.      There is another side benefit to Turgenev.   You can read a great Russian classic novel that is under 200 pages!

Mel u

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal

The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal, 1839, trans. by John Sturrock, 510 pages)

Stendhal (pen name of Marie-Henri Beyle-1783 to 1842) is the author of two great 19th century French novels.    Normally his first novel, The Red and The Black (1830) is the one of his books listed among the world's 100 best novels.   Stendahl lived a very interesting life.   When I discovered that he had gone to Moscow with the army of Napoleon in 1812 and made it back when 90 percent of those who made the trip did not I knew he was a person of great strength of character.   After returning from Moscow he basically moved to Italy and became fascinated with Italian culture (and became involved with many Italian women).     The Charterhouse of Parma was written via dictation in 53 days. (A charterhouse is a Chartrusian monastary.   Parma is a city in Northern Italy on the Mediterranean Sea)

The Charterhouse of Parma is the story of the life of Fabrice del Dongo, from his birth in 1798 to his death.    The real action of the novel opens with Napoleon's invasion of Italy.   In a series of comic misadventures Fabrice enters France determined to join the army of Napoleon.    He ends up witnessing Napoleon's historic defeat at Waterloo.   I thought the battle scenes in this section of the book were totally gripping in that Stendahl seems to succeed in conveying the  horrors of war  as seen by the participants in the battle who see only the tiny bit of land in front of them.    After the war is over Fabrice returns to Italy and a lot of his time is taken up in the social circle of his aunt, who may or may not be a Duchess.   The aunt and the prime minister of Parma meet and fall in love.   The prime minister then has the aunt marry a very rich old man who he plans to send out of the country for many years as an ambassador.   This leaves the prime minister and the aunt free to carry on their affair.   The plot has many soap opera like turns.   In one very well done section Stendahl's depiction of a period where Fabrice was in prison is so well done I almost longed for it to be over.     Stendhal goes into great detail about the lives of people in the court of Parma.   There is no romanticising of the nobility in the world of Stendahl.   Stendahl has a very acute sense for the moral dimensions of his characters.    Nothing  seems lost on  him.   Machiavelli would feel right at home in the world depicted by Stendahl.

The question might be,  to be blunt,  "why is Stendahl considered a great novelist?".    I think it is for his very realistic portayal of human nature, for his ability to make things come alive for  the reader (some say his battle scenes are the best anywhere), for his ability to keep us interested at all times in Fabrice who is far from a purely noble character.   Historically his importance is immense.   I am currently reading Ford Madox Ford's history of literature, The March of Literature.   Ford says Fabrice is one of the best and  most minutely realized characters in all 19th century literature. Ford also suggests that  Balzac and Stendahl created the realistic novel.    Ford also said  the lead characters in The Charterhouse of  of Stendhal are "the most fantastic to be found in any book of adventure ever written, and they are rendered almost maddening by the light of sinister reality that plays on all his scenes".

One of the reasons I was drawn to read Stendahl at this point in my life is that Stendahl seems to be the most admired writer among the best of the Japanese novelists of the 20th century.   The author of the Burmese Harp, Michio Takeyama translated his work into Japanese and carried The Red and the Black in his rucksack while serving in the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines.   Most of the best of the Japanese novelists seemed to have studied at one point in their academic years 19th century French novels and Stendahl was consistently the most admired.   I think it is because of his ability to place real people in real settings and show them buffeted  about by the forces of history as well as his great empathy for his characters and his psychological acuteness  as well the feeling of great cultural depth that drew the pre-WWII  Japanese novelist to Stendahl.   

The Charterhouse of Parma is also a very funny book.   It is a great satire on the vanity of man and the folly of putting too much faith in nobility, whoever they may be.  It shows great empathy for its female characters.     If you like to read classic 19th century  novels, The Charterhouse of Parma should for sure be on your one of these days list.    I am glad I took the time to read it.   It helped me understand a little more the development of the 19th century novel.   I also am starting to think that the modern Japanese novel got the germ of its start when a group of young men from elite schools in Tokyo in the 1890s to 1910  began to be able to read 19th century French literature and married this to classical Japanese forms and devices.   This is just a theory and maybe scholars would say it  is off the wall idea that makes no sense.    I enjoyed this book and with a bit of patience others in love with the 19th century novel will also, I think.   It is a serious book to be respected.

Mel u

Man Without a Temperament" and three other stories by Katherine Mansfield

I have several ongoing reading projects.    One of my projects is  the short stories of Katherine Mansfield (all of which can be read online at The New Zealand Electronic Text Center, a superbly done resource).    So far I have read and posted on nine of her stories.   Today I will cover briefly (I hope!) four more stories from her collection Bliss and Other Stories (1924).

Gerri Kimber, one of the officer of the Katherine Mansfield Society, posted the web page of the Katherine Mansfield Society in a comment.    It seems to be for sure the best web resource for the study and enjoyment of the work of Katherine Mansfield.   There is even a blog in which which we can read a daily small section from the notebooks, journals and letters of Mansfield.   I have been reading the blog ever since I learned of it.   Some people say her journals and logs are better written than her stories.  

There are still a lot of stories to be read and posted on.   For practical and other reasons I do not desire to do detailed posts on all the stories so today I am more or less doing a reading journal on the last four stories I read.   When a story seems really good to me I will do a longer post on it.

"The Man Without a Temperament" (22 pages) centers on the affluent guests in a Continental pension.  (I think Mansfield spent a lot of time in pensions-sort of a fancy boarding house-while in Europe).   Like a number of her stories it consists more less of a serious of brief look at the lives and persons a group of people.   The tone is a bit detached and ironic.   The level of writing is very high.   There is one passage in the story I liked so much I want to share it:

On—on—past the finest villas in the town, magnificent palaces, palaces worth coming any distance to see, past the public gardens with the carved grottoes and statues and stone animals drinking at the fountain, into a poorer quarter. Here the road ran narrow and foul between high lean houses, the ground floors of which were scooped and hollowed into stables and carpenters' shops. At a fountain ahead of him two old hags were beating linen. As he passed them they squatted back on their haunches, stared, and then their " A-hak-kak-kak ! " with the slap, slap, of the stone on the linen sounded after him.

Maybe the references to the two women doing laundry as "Old hags" will rub some the wrong way.   Mansfield is not above some snobbery but she does see through the limitations of her sense of  class in ways that maybe even Woolf and Ford do not.

"Mr Reginald Peacock's Day"-10 pages-is about a day in the life of a voice teacher.    It is a very interesting study also of a fascinating marriage as well as a brilliant expose of flawed self perception.

"Sun and Moon" is a strange feeling story about two young children and their daily activities.    A times it almost feels like a fairy tale.   The style of writing in an almost child like fashion at times to artistically match the content of the story.

"Feuille d'Album" (11 pages) is a wonderful story about the fantasy of an artist concerning his relationship with a woman he does not even know.   It is also plays on the notion of the artist  as an "old child".   It can be seen as a mockery of some of the people within the Bloomsbury Circle or of some of Mansfield's male admirers.  "Feulle d'Album" is the  name of a solo piano piece by the Hungarian composer Franz Liszt published in 1844 and I think it is safe to assume that Mansfield felt her readers would know that.

There are four more stories in the collection Bliss and Other Stories.   I hope to post on them next week.

If you have any suggestions as to short stories I might like, please leave them in a comment.  Thanks

Mel u

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"The Feast of Nemesis" by Saki

"The Feast of Nemesis" by Saki (1914, 4 pages)

After posting on Saki's delightful short story, "The Open Window"  in May I had no plans to post on more of his work.    Saki (pen name of Hector Munro-1870 to 1916-English) is considered a master of the very short story.  My prior post has some background data on him  I find his detached ironic (some would say smug and overly clever) tone a lot of fun.    As I read his stories I find myself saying "this is really clever and cute and a bit naughty also".   "

Almost every day I check the UK web page, East of the Web: Short Stories to see what their short stories of the day are.    This morning I found a story I enjoyed enough to want to post on it to bring it to the attention of others who might enjoy it also.   "The Feast of Nemesis" (1914, four pages)  begins with Mr and Mrs Thackenbury talking about the fact that there just seem to be too many holidays.    They talk about the hypocrisy behind many Christmas list, how Valentines day is over done etc.    Mr.  Thackenbury comes up with a great idea:

"There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe. That is really the crying need of our modern civilisation. Just think how jolly it would be if a recognised day were set apart for the paying off of old scores and grudges, a day when one could lay oneself out to be gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured list of ‘people who must not be let off.'
As I read this I was reminded of an Episode of the Seinfled TV show (this show comes on about 14 times a week here in Manila!) where George Costansa's father had created a holiday (celebrated on December 23) 
he called  Festivus Day on which you can air your complaints about the people in your life.   (You can learn more about Festivus Day and few  clip from the TV show here).   It turns out this holiday has some roots in ancient Rome as a day where the lower classes could mock their betters.   

The story continues on with Mr and Mrs Thackenbury really enjoying listing some of the people they would honor on that day and debating what they would do to them.    I think part of what I like about this story is just seeing what fun Mr and Mrs. Thackenbury have talking to each other.   You can probably read this story in under five minutes and I think you might enjoy it.   I know I did.   I think Elaine from Seinfled 
would for sure enjoy it for its slightly devilish and superior feel and its perfect prose.   

Mel u

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Vita Sexualis by Ogai Mori-A Leading Meiji Period Novelist

Vita Sexualis by Ogai Mori (1909, trans.  by Kazuji Ninomiya and Sanford Goldstein, 154 pages)

Ogai Mori (1862 to 1922) was born into a privileged family in the southern Japan.   His family had long had the been by right of inheritance physicians to the daimyo (a feudal samurai lord) of the region.    As the oldest son of the family, Mori as expected graduated from Medical School.   In his younger days he studied Confucian texts to supplement his schooling and insure a grounding in the classics.    After graduation he enrolled in the Japanese Imperial Army.   The army sent him to Germany to pursue advanced medical training and while there he developed a passion for European literature.     Upon return to Japan he was given a high ranking position in the army medical corps.   While pursuing his military career he started at his own expense a literary journal in the pages of which Japanese literary criticism first began.   In time he  was promoted to the position of Surgeon General of the Japanese Imperial Army.   While in the army he served in Manchuria and Taiwan during periods of combat.   As a hobby he pursued his writings, the most famous of which is The Wild Geese.

Vita Sexualis is considered an autobiographical novel of the sexual development of Mori.   It was considered so daring at the time that it was banned three weeks after its initial publication and Mori drew an official reprimand from his military superiors.   The book is narrated as if one writer was presenting the manuscript of a second one.     In a very good introduction to the book, Sanford Goldstein, gives us a very interesting account of the place of erotically explicit literature in the literary culture of Japan of the period.   Vita Sexualis is in no sense at all a an explicit book but it does talk in an open way about homosexual activity (including rape) in Japanese all male boarding schools which were attended by most elite Japanese of the time.   The book is told sort of one year at a time starting with age six and ending at age twenty one.    The narrator ends up in medical school just like Mori did.   We see him learning about self gratification from his peers up to his first sexual encounter which was with  a prostitute.   This  is portrayed as a normal right of male passage at the time.  I thing the suggestion that elite Japanese males commonly visited prostitutes and tea houses  of bad repute is   probably one of the reasons the top functionaries of the Imperial Army did not like his book.   We also see the role of  geisha in the life of the Japanese elite.   There is a lot of blurring of the line between prostitutes and gieshas in Japanese novels.       Given time it was expected that gieshas would provide sexual services and also cultural instruction to young elite males.   For sure this is the depiction of that aspect of Japanese life is shown in Vita Sexualis.   I think maybe the real  reason his book was banned as he revealed to much "boy's club" information about life among the elite in Japan.

I enjoyed this book.   It is well written by an obviously very cultivated and highly intelligent man.   It gives us an interesting look at the upbringing of elite males in Japan in the early part of the 20th century.   One must think that the elite males who were the classmates of the main character in 1904 (when they were about 20) lead Japan into war  thirty years later and we have to wonder if the values of classical Japan are already being shown as eroding in this 1904 work.    

I recommend this book for any one very into the Japanese novel  or anyone interested in the culture of early 20th century Japan.  It is also a book those interested in seeing an open treatment of homosexuality in Japanese literature will enjoy.    For those new to the Japanese novel I would recommend that they read post WWII books first then after you have read most of the major post WWII authors you will get more from this book.

Mel u
Just for fun I looked at the Wikipedia article on literature in 1909 (a purely Euro-centric list in all years it seems) and Vita Sexualis deserves a place as least as well as 80 percent of the selections on their do.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami (1982, trans. from the Japanese by Alfred Birnbaum, 352 pages)

A Wild Sheep Chase is the eighth book by Haruki Murakami  (1949) that I have now read.   Obviously I like and admire his work a lot.    It is the third book in what is called The Rat Trilogy which begins with Pinball which was  followed by Hear the Wind Sing (both of which are sadly out of print-there is chatter they are coming back in print soon-they can be found on at times).   Dance, Dance, Dance which came out in 1988 is sort of a continuation of the plot lines of the Rat Trilogy.

I really enjoyed this book.    It is just flat out a lot of fun.   It was recently the subject of discussion and review by several readers on a read along hosted by In the Spring it is The Dawn.   The posters there covered some of the deeper themes of the book so I will just talk briefly about the book.

The book is kind of a take off of the detective story complete with a visit from a sinister stranger who sends our unnamed central character on a quest for a mysterious wild sheep.    Along the way he meets and has a romance with a prostitute with beautiful ears.    We also learn a lot about the history of sheep in Japan which I found very interesting.     Our hero meets a number of strange and interesting characters.

   There are hints at an evocation of Japanese animism  in the use of the sheep imagery but Murakami does not take it too seriously and neither should we.  There are references to untoward human-sheep encounters so we know it is OK just to enjoy the book without a great deal of thought as to the symbolic meaning of the sheep.     There are many references to American cultural icons.   

I liked A Wild Sheep Chase a really lot as do almost all who post on it.     If you are just getting into the Japanese novel or looking for a first work to read by Murakami I would suggest either After Dark or Norwegian Wood.   

A link to some of my other Japanese reviews can be found here

Mel u

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Dead by James Joyce-read in observation of Bloomsday

"The Dead" by James Joyce (1914, in his The Dubliners, 45 pages, read  at

Ulysses by James Joyce (1888-1941 Dublin) takes place on June 16, 1904.    Every year for a long time now Bloomsday (Leopold Bloom was the central character of the book) is observed in Dublin and elsewhere by oral readings of parts or even all of Ulysses in marathon sessions.       In observation of this day I decided to read his story, "The Dead".    I have also started to read Ulysses on   At the pace I have set for myself it should take about sixty days.   I read it once long ago but I want to experience it again in the context of my recent readings of Woolf, Ford, and Mansfield.

Whether or not Ulysses is the greatest novel of the 20th century is a matter of literary taste.   Vladimir Nabokov, whose Lectures on Reading I am now being edified by, says it is.    If you love it, if you hate it, or if you see it as  a work that can be read only by those with a serious literary education and lots of reading time,  it cannot be denied its place as the most influential novel of the 20th century (and so far nothing has come along in the 21th century to threaten this position).    About two months ago I began to overcome a life time misguided aversion to the short story as a literary form.   As I began to read various authors I decided I would read the very best short stories first so I would have something to compare others with.    In doing a lot of Google searches on "best short stories of all time" in numerous variation, James Joyce's "The Dead" came up over and over.  

"The Dead" is not written in an experimental style that you  need a hypertext guide to follow. It has a plot, a beginning and end.     It is set in 1904 at a party given every year by the Moran sisters.   The central character is Gabriel Conway.   Gabriel seems fairly well read, he likes Robert Browning, he is self conscious, reflective and seems a good man.   He is also tentative and does not quite feel comfortable in the company of others.   In his conversations with others at the party, most of whom seem his social inferiors in his eyes, he uses the standard bits of Irish nationalism to come up with something to say.     His wife Gretta came to the party with him but he did not seem to pay much attention to her.   He sees an attractive looking woman sitting on the stairs and it takes a moment for him to realize it is his wife deep in thought.    I do not like spoilers myself so I will stop here but Gabriel does achieve an epiphany that may change the rest of his life and his marriage.   I will quote from the opening of the story to give a glimpse of his style:

He was undecided about the lines from Robert Browning, for he feared they would be above the heads of his hearers. Some quotation that they would recognise from Shakespeare or from the Melodies would be better. The indelicate clacking of the men's heels and the shuffling of their soles reminded him that their grade of culture differed from his. He would only make himself ridiculous by quoting poetry to them which they could not understand. They would think that he was airing his superior education.

He would fail with them just as he had failed with the girl in the pantry. He had taken up a wrong tone. His whole speech was a mistake from first to last, an utter failure.

As the story advances  the prose becomes increasingly  more and more beautiful until the last few sentences in which Gabriel achieves his epiphany and we read some of the most beautiful lines in the English language.    It is as if the progression of the prose is pushing us to our own epiphany.    The story ends in the snow as Gabriel requires the cold now as maybe we readers do also.   

In summery,  do not think this story is "hard' or readable only by the seriously over-educated.    "The Dead" is an open work, enjoyable to read and it is fun to feel you are at a country party in Ireland in 1904.   I think once I have completed reading the short stories of Mansfield and Woolf I will then read the rest of the stories in The Dubliners.  

I thank DS of Third Story Window  for suggesting I read this story.    If anyone has any  suggestions as to short stories I might like please leave a comment-thanks

Mel u

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Katherine Mansfield -Four Tales from Bliss and Other Stories

Four Tales from Bliss and Other Stories -1923
By Katherine Mansfield

"Je Ne Parle Pas Francais" -54 pages
"Bliss"--21 pages
"Wind Blows" 7 pages
Psychology" 12 pages

In continuation of The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project I am posting on four more  of her short stories, all from the 1920 collection Bliss and Other Stories.  Most of these stories were published in literary journals  prior to their inclusion in this volume.   (Bliss and Other Stories was first published in 1920, edited by her husband John Middleton Murray and reprinted in 1923 after her death in a revised edition.)

I have already done some more detailed posts on Katherine Mansfield.    I am nearly ready to declare that she is the best female writer of short stories  but I will wait until I have completed all the stories of both her and Virginia Woolf before making this decision.    This post will be more in the form of a reading journal than an attempt to say a lot about the stories -for practical reasons I deemed it not a good idea to write long post on all 60 or so stories!-  I will do individual posts on the stories I like most and upon completion of the project-hopefully by the end of July, I will sum up and list her five best stories.   All of her stories, much of her journals, notebooks, and letters can be read on line.   I will give the best web page I have found for her reading her work at the end of the post.   

"Je Ne Parle Pas Francais" is one of Mansfield's longer stories.   The central character this story is a Frenchman named Raoul who fancies himself a writer who will one day be proclaimed a genius. 

My name is Raoul Duquette. I am twenty-six years old and a Parisian, a true Parisian. About my family—it really doesn't matter. I have no family ; I don't want any. I never think about my childhood. I've forgotten it.

  He tells us he is rich, has never had a real employment or any contact with women.    He becomes friends with another man in the cafe.   Nothing untoward happens between them.   The interest in the story is in the passing observations of Raoul and his relationship with the other man and his girlfriend.    There is strange passage in the story when Raoul recalls his childhood relationship to the family laundress which almost seems like an account of a molestation:

When I was about ten our laundress was an African woman, very big, very dark, with a check handkerchief over her frizzy hair. When she came to our house she always took particular notice of me, and after the clothes had been taken out of the basket she would lift me up into it and give me a rock while I held tight to the handles and screamed for joy and fright. I was tiny for my age, and pale, with a lovely little half-open mouth—I feel sure of that.

"Bliss" is one of most widely read stories.   Really is a meditation on the experience of bliss, not a traditional story with a plot.

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss—absolute bliss !— as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe ? . . .
Oh, is there no way you can express it without being " drunk and disorderly " ? How idiotic civilization is ! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle ?
 "Wind Blows" is about a country house in New Zealand and the thoughts the narrator has as the wind shakes the house.   It is beautifully written and made me feel I was in the house.

"Psychology" is about the small pleasures of life, about minute domestic observations:
birds sang in the kettle ; the fire fluttered. He sat up clasping his knees. It was delightful—this business of having tea—and she always had delicious things to eat—little sharp sandwiches, short sweet almond fingers, and a dark, rich cake tasting of rum
All of these stories and much more can be read at the New Zealand Text Center
Mel u

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On Parole by Akira Yoshimura

On Parole by Akira Yoshimura (1988, 254 pages, trans. from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, 1999)

This is the second work by Akira Yoshimura (1927 to 2006-Tokyo) that I have read.   I read back in  2009 his One Man's Justice about the  life in post World War II Japan of an Imperial Soldier who served time as a war criminal for executing an American POW after the Japanese had surrendered.   Yoshimura wrote over 20 novels (sadly only three seem to have been translated) and was  president of the Japanese writer's union.   

On Parole is an extremely well done story of a man who spent 15 years in prison for murder.   The story begins with his routine in prison and  goes on to his parole.   In every way the lead character seems the model of a rational prudent hardworking man.   We are very confused as to why he wound up in prison until it is shockingly and vividly revealed to us.   I learned a good bit about how the justice system works in contemporary Japan.    We get an inside look at how prisons are run in Japan and we learn how people on parole are managed.  I also learned a lot about the chicken business in Japan after the released prisoner got a job working at a chicken ranch.   His biggest fear was that his coworkers would find out he was a released prisoner.   

I thought the portrayal of the parolee, Kikutani was really brilliant.   The scenes in the chicken and egg farm give us enough detail so we feel like we know what it was like to work there.    I really felt like I was being given a good look at the life of a humble simple man whose life was destroyed in a few crazy moments of madness.   

On Parole is a very good book, easy to follow and keeps us wondering what will happen next.   It may seem a bit of a cold book but that is in part as the character of  Kikutani seems cold on the surface.   I recommend it to anyone interested in the Japanese justice system.   I have one problem recommending this book to first time readers of Yoshimura.   On Parole is good but his One Man's Justice is great, a true master work that should be read by anyone interested in the post WWII Japanese novel.     I would suggest that one new to the Japanese novel first read One Man's Justice, then read at least 10 other Japanese novelists then go back to On Parole.    Some may find the subject matter of the book does not interest them all that much and at first I sort of felt that way but as the book went on I overcame my initial disinterest and I am very glad I did.   One of the signs of the great skill of Yoshimura is that he is able to make us feel in sympathy with people we have every reason to greatly dislike and have contempt for.   

The translator, Stephen Snyder, is a professor at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont and is one of the highest regarded translators of the Japanese novel into English.   

I am reading this book in association with the Japanese Literature 4 Challenge hosted by Dolce Bellezza.   I urge anyone who has the time to join her challenge, all you have to do is read just one book.   

Mel u

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Short Stories by two great New South Wales, Australian Authors-Henry Lawson and Andrew 'Banjo' Paterson

"The Dog" by Andrew (Banjo) Paterson -1917-9 pages

"The Drover's Wife" by Henry Lawson 1892-7 pages

The Reading Life Outback Tales Project

Two Wonderful Stories from New South Wales

One of the best things about my new found interest in the short story is that it has allowed me to discover some great new to me writers without making the     larger commitment to read a novel.    This week I read my first works by two authors from New South Wales Australia, Henry Lawson (at the left above) and Andrew Paterson.   I really enjoyed at admired their stories.   

Henry Lawson (1867 to 1922-New South Wales, Australia) is considered one of the very first Australian authors to write about life in "The Bush" or "The Outback"  in a realistic fashion.    His mother was a well known advocate of women's rights in Australia.   His father was an immigrant from Norway who came to find gold.    At 14 Lawson lost his hearing (he never regained it).   He married a prominent Australian Socialist but his marriage was not happy.   His writing style is laconic, has a dry wit and a keen eye for small details.    He celebrates the hero in the ordinary person struggling against the hardships of country life.    His most famous short story is "The Drover's Wife", first published in 1892.   (A drover is one employed in driving large herds of cattle or sheep to the market.  In Australia as in the American west it often involved being away from home for months.)    The story focuses on the wife of a drover whose husband has been away for months.   She is left with their children and a great  dog to run the family farm in the bush country.    Lawson does not really tell us as lot about her, rather he shows us what her life is like.   The main focus of the story is on the efforts of the wife and her dog to protect the family from a dangerous snake that has crawled under their house.   Lawson's description of the life of the wife is perfect:

She is not a coward, but recent events have shaken her nerves. A little son of her brother-in-law was lately bitten by a snake, and died. Besides, she has not heard from her husband for six months, and is anxious about him.
     He was a drover, and started squatting here when they were married. The drought of 18-- ruined him. He had to sacrifice the remnant of his flock and go droving again. He intends to move his family into the nearest town when he comes back, and, in the meantime, his brother, who keeps a shanty on the main road, comes over about once a month with provisions. 
     She is used to being left alone. She once lived like this for eighteen months. As a girl she built the usual castles in the air; but all her girlish hopes and aspirations have long been dead. 
The story is exciting, real and kept my interest to the end.    I hope I will be forgiven this but as I was reading this story I imagined Katherine Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence and Crocodile  Dundee having a drink together and finding they all liked the work of Henry Lawson.   At his death Lawson was given a state funeral.   "The Dover's Wife" can be read at East of the Web: Short Stories

Andrew (Banjo) Paterson (1864 to 1941-New South Wales, Australia) is best remembered as the author of the unofficial Australia national anthem,  Waltzing Matilda.  Like Henry Lawson Paterson wrote stories about the lives of people in the outback, the bush country of Australia.   "The Dog", notice both stories partially center on outback working dogs, was  first published in 1917.    Paterson grew up in the outback and attended rural schools.   In time he became licensed as a solicitor with a law firm.   Paterson wrote poetry as an avocation and broke into print when one of his poems was published in a newspaper.   Paterson was an ardent supported of independence for Australia.   He became a war correspondent during the Boer Wars in South Africa (1899) and this brought him his first measure of fame.   He served in France in WWI as an ambulance driver.   Upon his return he began to writer stories, songs and poems and is so highly regarded in his native country that his picture is on the Australian ten dollar bill.

The style of "The Dog" has more of a self consciously literary feel to it than Lawson's "The Drover's Wife".    "The Dog" is kind of a paean to the Australian working dog.   Neither writer has any time for pomp or pomposity.   Both right in a straight forward easy to follow fashion.   Here is a sample of the prose of Paterson:

The dog is a member of society who likes to have his day's work, and who does it more conscientiously than most human beings. A dog always looks as if he ought to have a pipe in his mouth and a black bag for his lunch, and then he would go quite happily to office every day.
A dog without work is like a man without work, a nuisance to himself and everybody else. People who live about town, and keep a dog to give the children hydatids and to keep the neighbours awake at night, imagine that the animal is fulfilling his destiny. All town dogs, fancy dogs, show dogs, lap-dogs, and other dogs with no work to do, should be abolished; it is only in the country that a dog has any justification for his existence
 "The Dog" can be read at

I enjoyed both of these short stories a lot and hope to read more works by Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson in the coming years.   

Mel u

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi

The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi (1971, trans. from the Japanese by John Bester, 203 pages)

Fumiko Enchi (1905 to 1986-Tokyo) was the daughter of a famous scholar of classical Japanese literature.   She acknowledged as one of her strongest literary influence the work of Junichiro Tanizaki  which I did  see.    During a bombing raid in WWII the house of her and her husband was destroyed along with all their possessions.    She was educated at home by tutors and at 13 was reading Oscar Wilde, Edgar Alan Poe,  and classical Japanese literature.    She was very much into the reading life.

The Waiting Years took Enchi nearly eight years to write.   It is a wonderful basically flawless work of art.   The novel is set in the home of a Samurai family in late 19th century Japan.   The husband is a middle level, maybe a higher at times, government official.   The family is quite comfortable and can afford several servants but they are not among the truly rich or elite.    The novel's center is Tumo, the wife, about ten years younger than her husband.   One day the husband comes to her with some instructions for her to carry out.   He wants her to find a new maid for the household that will also serve as his concubine.    She suppresses her anger and jealousy as he explains to her it is simply that a man of his standing is expected to have at least one concubine and if he does not it casts doubts on the families financial status and looks bad for him to his peers.   There were functionaries whose served the needs of those who sought out concubines/maids and Tomo went to one of them with the money her husband had given her.    She tries to control her emotions as she imagines her husband sleeping with the various girls she interviews.   These girls were basically offered for sale by their families.   Once funds were paid for them they were more or less slaves and certainly had no right to leave their masters.   It was a bit shocking to learn that the typical age of these girls was 13 to 15.   The girls trained in household duties and most also service the sexual needs of the master of the house.   We see Tomo and the girl develop a relationship even though they have every reason to dislike and distrust each other.   It is not openly stated but the husband  seems to be very brutal in his relations with both his wife and the new maid.   

The novel covers at least 40 years in the life of the family.   In each chapter we are given a view of a different aspect of their developing lives.   Soon the husband feels a need for a second then a third concubine.   All of the women are bought as young girls and live in the household.   We see the tensions between the wife and the concubines.   One of the concubines seems to have some power over the husband and they urge her to have the wife, who has now lost her looks and is quite heavy,  displaced from the household.   

Along the way we meet their children and grandchildren.   I could not help but laugh when I found out who the real father of the children of one of the concubines really was.   We see the shifting relationships of the women over time.    We see that  the women have no power other than what ever emotional hold they have over the husband.   

   The Waiting Years is a very subtle, cerebral work that takes us deeply into the lives of the women (and the husband) in a late 19th century Samurai family.     I hope to post on another of her novels in July, Masks.  She wrote many novels all of which center on female characters trying to find away towards self-actualization in a male dominated society.   Sadly only  three of her novels have been translated into English.   I recommend this book with the only reservations that if you find Jane Austin, The Brontes, Tanizaki or George Sand boring you may have the same reaction to this book.

The translator, John Bester (1927-) is one of the foremost translators of the Japanese novel into English-having translated over a dozen works.   He is a graduate of the London School of African and Oriental Studies.   (From now on I will try to post a bit about the translators of the works I read.)

Mel U

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ambrose Bierce-Three Stories-

"A Psychological Shipwreck"  (1893-5 pages)
"A Diagnosis of Death" (1909-6 pages)
"Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge" (1891-7 pages)-All by Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce (1842 to 1914-Ohio) is probably best known now as the subject of a 1989 movie Old Gringo staring Gregory Peck which was about Bierce's involvement with Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution.   Bierce, in his 70s, disappeared while covering the revolution for the Hearst Newspapers and was never heard from again.    He fought on the Northern side, starting at age 19, in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War and was decorated for extreme bravery.    After the war he stayed in the army for a while and ended up in San Francisco.   He then embarked on a career as a journalist for San Francisco news papers and had for the rest of his life a working relationship with the Hearst Company and was greatly admired by William Randolph Hearst.   He is in the tradition of American War time journalist turned author that includes Stephen Crane and Ernest Hemingway.   

I decided to read one of his stories by accident.   Almost everyday since I got interested in short stories I look at East Of of The Web:   Short Stories to see what their stories of the day are.    The story of the day was "A Psychological Shipwreck" by Ambrose Bierce.   I had vaguely heard of him and recalled seeing his one famous book, The Devil's Dictionary,  in book stores.   I did a bit of quick research and I saw he was actually pretty famous.   One of his stories had been made into one of the most popular episodes of the long running American TV shows, The Twilight Zone.   I ended up reading three of his stories as I liked the first one so much.

"A Psychological Shipwreck"  opens aboard ship.    The central character has booked passage on a freight schooner across the Atlantic as he wants a long cruise to allow him to calm his mind after seeing terrible events in a war.   There are really only two passengers on the ship, him and an attractive woman.   The prose is the spare clean athletic prose of  a political and war  correspondent but one who spent a life time reading the best books he could find.   I was able to verify Bierce was very into the reading life.   The atmosphere is dark and sinister.   There is a surprise twist type of horror movie type ending and I will not spoil it.   I think if you read this story you well might read more, as I did.   I want to quote one passage from this story so you can see his style:

In an instant my mind was dominated by as strange a fancy as ever entered human consciousness. It seemed as if she were looking at me, not with, but through, those eyes -- from an immeasurable distance behind them -- and that a number of other persons, men, women and children, upon whose faces I caught strangely familiar evanescent expressions, clustered about her, struggling with gentle eagerness to look at me through the same orbs. Ship, ocean, sky -- all had vanished. I was conscious of nothing but the figures in this extraordinary and fantastic scene. Then all at once darkness fell upon me, and anon from out of it, as to one who grows accustomed by degrees to a dimmer light, my former surroundings of deck and mast and cordage slowly resolved themselves. Miss Harford had closed her eyes and was leaning back in her chair, apparently asleep, the book she had been reading open in her lap. Impelled by surely I cannot say what motive, I glanced at the top of the page; it was a copy of that rare and curious work, Denneker's Meditations, and the lady's index finger rested on this passage.
"A Diagnosis of Death" is a short simple tale with a strange twist.   I liked it but not as much as the other two I read.

"Incident at Oak Creek" is by far his most famous story and is, according to my research, often listed among the best 19th century American short stories.    It has been dramatized on French TV and was also the basis for a  Twilight Zone TV show.     A man, during the American Civil War (circa 1864) is on a bridge.   He is going to be executed by hanging.   The execution is being preformed by Union Soldiers.   We not not learn why he is being executed.   As  I read the story I could  hear Rod Sterling (creator and voice of the Twilight Zone TV Series (began 1959-156 episodes in all) setting in his marvelous voice for us the setting of the story. To tell any of the plot would spoil it but the story is just wonderfully done.   It not high literary art but it is fun and their is real intelligence behind it.  

I think you will be pleasantly surprised by these three stories as I was and they are for sure worth the small amount of time it takes to read them.   If  you have time or want to read just one read "Incident at Oak Creek".  

If anyone has any suggestions as to short stories I might like, please leave a comment.   I am pretty much reading all of my short stories online.   This also allows anyone who might want to read one of the stories I have blogged on to read it for free just as I did.  

Mel u

Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Prelude" by Katherine Mansfield

"Prelude" by Katherine Mansfield (first published 1918-republished in Bliss and Other Stories, 1923, 60 pages)

Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) is a wonderful short story writer.    I almost ready to say that she is the best  female short story writer of all time but I want to read all of Virginia Woolf's shorter fiction before I do make such a declaration.     I am in the process of reading all Mansfield's fiction (it comes to about 600 pages or so) and posting on some if it as I go.   I recently read her first collection of short stories, In A German Pension.   All of the stories center on goings on at a luxury boarding house in Germany where people stay while taking various cures at a spa famous for its healing waters.   Mansfield's mother send her to  a spa like that to be "cured" of a sexual interest in women.   The stories in there are all great gems.   They are not stories in the Saki/O Henry model, most have no real plot in the traditional sense.    

"Prelude", the lead story in Bliss and Other Stories.   It is set in Mansfield's native New Zealand, near her birth place of Wellington.   The Brunell family, husband, wife and two young daughters,  is moving out of their city house to realize the father's dream and the wife's dread of living in the country.   The story opens with moving day:
THERE was not an inch of room for Lottie and Kezia in the buggy. When Pat swung them on top of the luggage they wobbled; the grandmother's lap was full and Linda Burnell could not possibly have held a lump of a child on hers for any distance. Isabel, very superior, was perched beside the new handy-man on the driver's seat. Hold-alls, bags and boxes were piled upon the floor. " These are absolute necessities that I will not let out of my sight for one instant," said Linda Burnell, her voice trembling with fatigue and excitement.
Mr Brunell is depicted as a kind and loving father and husband who takes good care of his family.   There seem no negative undercurrent in their relationship.    Mrs Brunell has her disturbing thoughts that rush in on her invited:
 And then, as she lay down, there came the old thought, the cruel thought—ah, if only she had money of her own.
A young man, immensely rich, has just arrived from England. He meets her quite by chance. . . . The new governor is unmarried. . . . There is a ball at Government house. . . . Who is that exquisite creature in eau de nil satin ? Beryl Fairfield. 
Mrs. Brunell is not happy in her new home.    She feels insolated and she looks down on the few neighbors she has.   (Mansfield has a wonderful eye for the nuances of class-maybe better than Woolf).

We have got neighbours, but they are only farmers—big louts of boys who seem to be milking all day, and two dreadful females with rabbit teeth who brought us some scones when we were moving and said they would be pleased to help.
We try to sympathize with Mrs Brunell but it is not easy when see how she things about those not as affluent as she is.

I will close my comment with this passage.   Read it carefully and we will see that Mrs Brunell is thinking about her beloved dog and husband simultaneously.
For she really was fond of him ; she loved and admired and respected him tremendously. Oh, better than anyone else in the world. She knew him through and through. He was the soul of truth and decency, and for all his practical experience he was awfully simple, easily pleased and easily hurt. . . .
If only he wouldn't jump at her so, and bark so loudly, and watch her with such eager, loving eyes. He was too strong for her ; she had always hated things that rush at her, from a child. There were times when he was frightening—really frightening. When she just had not screamed at the top of her voice: " You are killing me." And at those times she had longed to say the most coarse, hateful things..

I will be posting on other stories in the collection  and will at least comment briefly on all of them.  "Prelude" is one of her longer stories.   It gives us a good look into the live and soul of a woman in New Zealand in 1918.    Nearly the full body of her work relates to issues in The Women Unbound Challenge.

All her published work can be read on line at the New Zealand Electronic Text Center.

Mel u