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, October 21, 2010

"Her First Ball" By Katherine Mansfield

"Her First Ball" By Katherine Mansfield (12 pages, 1921)

"Her First Ball" after being first published in 1921 was included in Katherine Mansfield's (1883 to 1923-New Zealand) collection The Garden Party and other Stories in 1922.      It is set in rural New Zealand.   In it we meet three characters from her story "The Doll House", the Sheridan sisters and Leila.   "Sheridan" is kind of a code word for "upper class" where Leila is a bit country as the nearest neighbor to her family is 15 miles away.

Leila is on the way with the Sheridan sisters in their carriage to what will be her first ball.     Given the scarcity of social contact this was a very big event for Leila.    The conversations among the girls are great and seemed very real.

At the dance a man in his 50s invites Leila to dance with him (this was not a teen only event, every body in the area could go).    He tells her he has been coming to these dances for 30 years.   He started 12 years before Leila was born.   As the dances are kind of matchmaking events this is a bit sad in itself.   The power in this story is in what he tells her and her reaction to it.   Here is what he says:

“Kind little lady,” said the fat man, and he pressed her a little closer, and hummed a bar of the waltz. “Of course,” he said, “you can’t hope to last anything like as long as that. No-o,” said the fat man, “long before that you’ll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice black velvet. And these pretty arms will have turned into little short fat ones, and you’ll beat time with such a different kind of fan—a black bony one.” The fat man seemed to shudder. “And you’ll smile away like the poor old dears up there, and point to your daughter, and tell the elderly lady next to you how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club ball. And your heart will ache, ache”—the fat man squeezed her closer still, as if he really was sorry for that poor heart—“because no one wants to kiss you now. And you’ll say how unpleasant these polished floors are to walk on, how dangerous they are. Eh, Mademoiselle Twinkletoes?” said the fat man softly.
Mansfield's depiction of Leila's reaction to this revelation is just marvelous.  

The story can be read online.

Mel u


Eileen said...

On the one hand, I would love to be able to attend a ball. Yet I would sincerely prefer not to have to dance with fat men my dad's age. Poor Leila!

Suko said...

Thanks for the link, Mel. You are having a KM read-a-thon!

I read The Voyage online thanks to your link. Her voice is quite addictive (as if you didn't know that!).