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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Marriage a la Mode" by Katherine Mansfield

"Marriage a la Mode" by Katherine Mansfield (1921, 20 pages)

The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project

KM, brother in law, and
"Marriage a la Mode" by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) was first published in 1921 and then republished in 1922 in her collection of short stories, A Garden Party and Other Stories.    (As we read through Mansfield there is a temptation to somehow see her work as peaking in 1921 but  I think this may be simply because that we know she will soon pass away.)     The title for this story no doubt comes from the 1673 comedy by John Dryden.      Some suggest the plot of this story comes  from Anton Chekhov's "The Grasshopper", which I will read very soon.   Chekhov was a huge influence on Mansfield and there was an ugly controversy after her death about her borrowing  the plot line of one of her stories from an at that time untranslated story of Chekhov's.      

"Marriage a la Mode" is a brilliant snapshot of a  time of transformation  in the marriage of William and Isabel. As the story opens, William is on the way home from a business trip and he is wondering what type of gifts he should get his children.   William and Isabel have recently moved from a small house in London to a larger place in an affluent suburb.      The story is really about how the  marriage changes as the husband and wife change and develop.     The wife has come under the influence of new friends she has met in their new neighborhood  that seem to be making her unhappy with her material circumstances and are causing her to lose respect for her husbamd.    William is distressed by  what is going on and he tries not to become upset with his wife.   His children are also changing in similar ways.     In some ways the wife in this story reminded me of Emma Bovary as she becomes dissatisfied with her lot in life under the influence of richer new acquaintances.     The conversations in the family are really well done, funny, smart and  skillfully developed.    

"Marriage a la Mode" is not a traditional story in that there are no plots lines, no conflict is resolved and there is no surprise or trick ending.    The narrative jumps around quite a bit to different incidents and new characters are brought into the story without introduction.     

As I read the story I wondered why one of the children is named "Paddy" which was at the time a common derogatory English nickname for an Irish person.    I was also caused to wonder what, if anything, should be made of the name of one of Isabel's new rich friends, "Moira".    In ancient Greek mythology Moira was the personification of fate.     In New Zealand, the Maori are the indigenous Polynesian people.    Mansfield is well known to have had a romantic relationship with a Maori princess.

This story can be read online at the New Zealand Electronic Text Center.

Mel u


Rebecca Chapman said...

Hi, sounds really interesting actually. It reminds me a little bit of that book that had the movie version made recently with Leondardo Di Caprio and Kate Winlet... ah! what was it called?! sorry memory blank, but I hope you know what I mean.

It sounds like a very realistic depiction of how a marriage can change - and how relationships in general can change over time.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it sure sounds like an anatomy of a marriage breakdown. Becky, that book and movie is Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Coincidentally, I'm reading that now together with The Corrections by Franzen and find them to be similar in terms of the subject matter.

Mel u: I'm wondering whether you've reviewed Jhumpa Lahiri's works? I've recently posted The Namesake, Book and Movie... just wondering what your thoughts are. Thanks!

Mel u said...

Becky-I agree it is a very realistic depiction of how a marriage can change and how sometimes one partner sees what has happened and the other does not-

Mel u said...

Rippleeffects-I have read and posted on "Heaven and Hell" by Jhumpa Lahiri-I liked it a really lot and hope to read all of her work eventually-I read the one story as made it available for a free read-thanks for sharing the info on the movie-which I saw on cable-I would say the movie is OK-I have yet to read any of Yates work

Thomas Elliott said...

The story is another great example of Katherine Mansfield's extraordinary range and depth of sympathy which is most strongly aligned with husband William. Isabel also is very real and her personality described feelingly. Mansfield's contempt for Isabel's ligging new friends , content to drink, smoke and eat them out of house and home, is quite devastating. But she can't give them up. Meanwhile William's dream of family life with his wife and children evaporates. It is very sad. A beautifully described situation. People say nothing happens in Mansfield's stories. Actually she is forensic at pinpointing critical breakdowns.