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

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


Suko said...

Mel, I think you're ready to teach a class on Katherine Mansfield! And you're certainly over your dislike of short fiction!

joemmama said...

just hopping by...a day early. just wanted to say how much i like your blog!