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, September 15, 2010

"Bains Turcs" by Katherine Mansfield

"Bains Turcs" by Katherine Mansfield (8 pages, 1913)

"Bains Turcs" was first published by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) in 1913 and was republished in 1924 in the collection edited by her husband, John Murry, Something Childish and Other Stories.

"Bains Turcs" draws upon Mansfield's experience at the German health spa she was sent to by her mother to be cured of her sexual interest in other women,  through a series of water treatments.   ( I have not yet discovered precisely what this treatment was but amateur Freudians will be interested to know it partially involved spraying the subjects with cold water from high pressure hoses!)     "Bains Turcs" is a classic Mansfield story with no start middle or end and with a bit of a nasty streak in its observations of those who are not admired by the narrator.   Mansfield, whose own weight seems to have been high at times, does  have her narrator treat overweight blond women (meaning in the context a person of German roots) with contempt.

We get a good look at the working of this story and Mansfield's method of mimesis in this passage in which the narrator conveys for us a conversation between  two women in the steam bath of the health spa:

“But I cannot imagine,” said the other, “why women look so hideous in Turkish baths—like beef-steaks in chemises. Is it the women—or is it the air? Look at that one, for instance—the skinny one, reading a book and sweating at the moustache—and those two over in the corner, discussing whether or not they ought to tell their non-existent babies how babies come—and … Heavens! Look at this one coming in. Take the box, dear. Have all the mandarins.”
Woman is woman, and besides, if you'd rather, I won't look at you. I know— I used to be like that. I wouldn't mind betting,” she went on savagely, “those filthy women had a good look at each other. Pooh! women like that. You can't shock them. And don't they look dreadful? 

One cannot help but notice the ironic use of the women to convey the contempt  the story has for the women through showing the ignorant fashion in which they think they understand the Sapphonic  impulse (using an expression from the time of the story.)     One can see Mansfield could be very harsh on those she did not like.      A lot of the basic techniques of Mansfield are used in this story.

To those who do not like short stories as they feel they do not offer enough "substance" to be worth your time (I once thought this also) I would say the 600 or so pages taken by the collected Mansfield short stories is all the refutation this notion needs!

Mel u


Suko said...

Another post which ignites my interest in reading more of Katherine Manfield's short fiction!

Tiina said...

I want to read this! :) My favorite short story by Mansfield this far is Miss Brill. It's very touching. Here's a link to the text, if you have not read it yet: