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 1, 2010

"Millie" by Katherine Mansfield-The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project

"Millie" by Katherine Mansfield (1913, 9 pages)

"Millie" by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) was first published in 1913 and anthologized by her Husband, John Middleton Murry in 1924 in the collection Something Childish and Other Stories.

"Millie" would fit quite well among the various short stories by writers from and about the Australian Outback that I have lately been reading.     In fact it reminded me a bit of "The Vessel" by Barbara Boynton in tone if not style.

The story is set in New Zealand. As the story begins Millie's husband and several other men have gone off in rush of excitement.   There has been a murder near by and they are in pursuit of the known killer.    Millie is a seemingly simple wife of a hard working man.      The killer is a young Englishmen who had been working  as a  hand on a nearby ranch.   Unlike many of Mansfield's stories this work tells a story rather than just depicting life.  Millie hears a noise in her front yard and is afraid.    She looks out and discovers it is the killer, lying in her yard, brought down by a bullet wound.

He was not much more than a boy, with fair hair, and a growth of fair down on his lips and chin. His eyes were open, rolled up, showing the whites, and his face was patched with dust caked with sweat. He wore a cotton shirt and trousers, with sandshoes on his feet. One of the trousers was stuck to his leg with a patch of dark blood. “I can't,” said Millie, and then, “You've got to.” She bent over and felt his heart. “Wait a minute,” she stammered, “wait a minute,” and she ran into the house for brandy and a pail of water. “What are you going to do, Millie Evans?
Without knowing why she is doing it and feeling it is somehow not quite right she gives the wounded man some brandy and food.     It is enough to send him back on the run.     Here is what Millie tells herself in rationalization of this:

'Ere—try a bit.” She broke the bread and butter into little pieces, and she thought, “They won't ketch him. Not if I can 'elp it. Men is all beasts. I don' care wot 'e's done, or wot 'e 'asn't done. See 'im through, Millie Evans. 'E's nothink but a sick kid.” 

Millie's husband Sid and four of his friends return to the house for the night after being unable to find the killer. Then one of the dogs begins to bark wildly.      He has spotted the killer in the yard.   The killer takes off running as fast as he can with all in pursuit of him.   Now Millie somehow reverses her position (if it can be called that) and urges the men to catch the killer:

And at the sight of Harrison in the distance, and the three men hot after, a strange mad joy smothered everything else. She rushed into the road—she laughed and shrieked and danced in the dust, jigging the lantern. “A—ah! Arter 'im, Sid! A—a—a—h! Ketch him, Willie. Go it! Go it! A—ah, Sid! Shoot 'im down. Shoot 'im!”
We are not shown what happens next but it is clear the killer will be caught.    I think what is most of interest in "Millie" is the states of mind of Millie.    What would cause her on one hand to show compassion for the killer and on the other hand scream wildly (and quite sincerely) for her husband and his friends to shoot him?

This story is quite different from most of her other works.   It deals with people of a social sort that would have been outside of her contact and even comfort zone.   It is for sure still very much worth reading and can be read on line here

Mel u

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