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"An Indiscreet Journey" by Katherine Mansfield was first published in 1915 and then republished after her death by her husband in a collection of her work called Something Childish and Other Stories in 1924. In my reading of Mansfield's stories I have observed that a lot of them are about a woman on a journey, normally traveling alone through partially unfriendly territory. A number of the stories take place on trains. One of the effects of such travels is that, if one wants, you are free to say what ever you want to those sitting near you knowing you will in all probability never see them again. On a train among strangers you can be anyone that you want to be.
Written during the first part of WWI, "An Indiscreet Journey" is the first of her stories I have read (about 30 so far) that deal directly with matters relating to the war. Our lead character, a young woman alone, is on a train in France. Many of her fellow passengers are young soldiers on their way to war. Mansfield marvelously contrasts the seeming innocence of the soldiers and the beauty of the passing countryside with a foreknowledge of what will soon happen to the soldiers and in the beautiful fields.
And now there were soldiers everywhere working on the railway line, leaning against trucks or standing hands on hips, eyes fixed on the train as though they expected at least one camera at every window. And now we were passing big wooden sheds like riggedup dancing halls or seaside pavilions, each flying a flag. In and out of them walked the Red Cross men; the wounded sat against the walls sunning themselves. At all the bridges, the crossings, the stations, apetit soldat, all boots and bayonet. Forlorn and desolate he looked,—like a little comic picture waiting for the joke to be written underneath. Is there really such a thing as war? Are all these laughing voices really going to the war? These dark woods lighted so mysteriously by the white stems of the birch and the ash—these watery fields with the big birds flying over—these rivers green and blue in the light—have battles been fought in places like these?In this story we feel more of the loneliness conveyed in the work of Mansfield. We see what it feels like for the narrator to see death and horror coming amidst the young men and the natural beauty. The wounded soldiers are depicted almost as if they were parts of a painting rather than real men who may never grown to maturity now. It as if we are seeing things through the eye of a spectator who intentionally stops short of following her full vision to avoid the horror of it.
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