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 5, 2010

"Poison" by Katherine Mansfield

"Poison" by Katherine Mansfield (9 pages, 1921)

"Poison" by Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) is the last story in a collection of her work published by her husband shortly after her death, Something Childish and Other Stories (1924).    If John Middleton Murry intended to conclude the collection on a brilliant, passionate note he has succeeded.   

"Poison" is set in a hotel in France.    As I have already seen, a lot of the stories of Mansfield take place in hotels or boarding houses, normally small ones.   The central characters in the story are Beatrice and her lover.   Beatrice has been married and divorced twice.    We do not know much about the past of her lover.  I am taking the lover to be male as he speaks of wanting to marry Beatrice.      I found his expression of love for Beatrice (I see this as an echo of Dante) in the passage below both moving and hilarious:

And when she lay on her back, with the pearls slipped under her chin, and sighed “I'm thirsty, dearest. Donne-moi un orange,” I would gladly, willingly, have dived for an orange into the jaws of a crocodile—if crocodiles ate oranges.
Unlike Australia there were no crocodiles or alligators in New Zealand so maybe this is a Peter Pan reference as for sure Mansfield knew her share of Peter Pans!

Beatrice seems to have had bad luck in her marriages (most commentators would come close to saying the same thing about Mansfield).      Here is Beatrice's  reaction when her lover suggests they marry:

The only reason why so many couples”—she laughed—” survive, is because the one is frightened of giving the other the fatal dose. That dose takes nerve! But it's bound to come sooner or later. There's no going back once the first little dose has been given. It's the beginning of the end, really—don't you agree? Don't you see what I mean?

The male character in the story is twenty four and assuming Beatrice is about the same age (we have no reason to assume to the contrary) this can be taken either as the shallow wisdom of a callow youth or as a warning to the man not to fly to close to the sun.

Mel u 


verbivore said...

I have enjoyed the Mansfield short stories I've read so far, so I'll have fun going back through your posts.

Jinky said...

I just noticed your blog on the Filipino Book Bloggers' blogroll. I didn't realize you are Filipino. Awesome!!

starla said...

I imagined the narrator as a woman who has a wistful fantasy about marrying Beatrice.