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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Katherine Mansfield-Four More Stories from Bliss and Other Stories

Four Concluding Stories from Bliss and Other Stories (1920) by Katherine Mansfield

"A Dill Pickle" -11 pages
"The Little Governess" -23 pages
"Revelations" -10 pages
"The Escape"-7 pages

On May 19, 2010 thanks to one of my favorite online reading web pages, East of the Web:Short Stories I read my first Katherine Mansfield short story, "Miss Brill" when they selected it as their short story of the day.    I am embarrassed a bit to admit I had until then never heard of Katherine Mansfield.     After reading this story I knew at once I had discovered a new to me writer that I wanted to learn more about.    A bit of research led me to two  of her most famous stories, "The Doll House" and "The Garden Party".    By then I had begun to research her online and discovered, among other things, that she was the only writer whose talent made Virginia Woolf jealous.    Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) had a fascinating but far too short a life (I have  talked a little bit about it in my prior posts) in which her published output was around 75 short stories.    Recently I read five short stories written in the last two years by finalists and winner of the Caine Prize for African Literature.    All of these stories are very good works well worth reading.    If I could presume to offer one bit of advice to these five writers it would be "read the stories of Katherine Mansfield".      I am now about 1/3 way through my project of reading all the short stories of Katherine Mansfield.   Almost all of the stories have been collected in four books edited by Mansfield's husband, John Middleton Murray.    The wonderful New Zealand Electronic Text center has all of these four books online in an easy to read format and a lot more also including some great pictures and large selections form her journals, notebooks, and letters.     

"The Little Governess" is really a small masterpiece of the narrative art.   ( Many, maybe most serious readers, say they do not really enjoy short stories as they do not construct a complete world into which they can enter.    This feeling kept me from reading short stories for many years.     I have now seen I was not correct (for me at least) in my regard toward the short story.   I am coming to think more and more that the widespread aversion to the short story comes almost from a laziness on the part of the reader and a strong desire to escape through reading.)       It is about a young woman traveling by sea (of course LOL as no planes or chunnel then!) from England to Germany to be the governess for the children of the German baron and his wife.     The young woman is very naive in the ways of the world and she receives an expensive crushing education on her trip.    We in just a few pages go deeply into the world of the young woman and several people she encounters.   I do not want to give away the plot but it really is a sheer delight.   Yes, I will admit it left me very much wanting to learn more about what would happen to the little governess  and that was very stimulating to my imagination.    "The Little Governess" is just a wonderful story that would be hard to over praise.     One might concede that Germans are not portrayed favorably in Mansfield's stories (her brother died in WWI during a training exercise).

"A Dill Pickle" is about the chance meeting in an outdoor cafe (Mansfield and her circle spent a lot of time  in cafes and restaurants and they figure in a lot of her stories-she did not work in the ordinary sense and had a lot of leisure time) of a man and woman who six years ago seemingly had a fairly intense relationship but have since been apart.   The exact nature of their relationship is not spelled out.    That is one of the pleasure of Mansfield's stories in that we get to be active in the construction of the world of the stories we read.    Both characters are bit detached it seems, especially the man.    In the case of the man, it almost seems he has been sitting in the cafe for the last six years watching the world go by.     Both the man and woman are lonely and this story helps us understand the causes of loneliness.    The last few lines are simply brilliant.

"Revelations" is about a thirty three year old woman who seems to have thought herself into a  very precarious mental state and an early old age.    We also get a look at the effects of her mental issues (called simply nervousness) has on those in her life.    Here are some simply marvelous lines I cannot help but quote:

It is the loneliness which is so appalling. We whirl along like leaves, and nobody knows—nobody cares where we fall, in what black river we float away. The tugging feeling seemed to rise into her throat. It ached, ached ; she longed to cry. " That will do," she whispered. " Give me the pins." As he stood beside her, so submissive, so silent, she nearly dropped her arms and sobbed. She couldn't bear any more.
"The Escape" centers on a couple on a train.   (Mansfield spent a lot of time traveling.)   In just a few pages we can see deeply into the dynamics of the relationship between the couple on the train.   As I read the opening lines I felt Mansfield had beautifully captured the thoughts of a man who tries to keep the peace by agreeing with everything his wife says.   He thinks they are happy until he sees how another woman treats her husband.

I will next begin to read the stories in the collection, Something Childish and Other Stories published posthumously by her  husband.    These are largely her early stories.     There are 26 stories in this collection and I expect to do five or six posts on these stories.     There are 20 stories in The Doves Nest and Other Stories.    So far I have read and posted on 27 of her stories which leaves me 46 to go.   There are also a few stories not included in the four collections and some unpublished stories.    Of course there is the larger world of her letters and journals but my reading project focuses on her published fiction.      

Mel u

1 comment:

Aldrin said...

Have you read Prelude? I saw a really cheap book containing that and two other short stories by Mansfield. Admittedly, I wouldn't have bought it even if it cost less than P100 if it weren't for your posts praising Mansfield's writing. Thanks!