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

Monday, January 10, 2011

Katherine Mansfield-A Getting Started Guide

Katherine Mansfield died January 9, 1923.   Like many another writer who died far too young (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) we wonder what she might have produced had she lived on another thirty years.    All of Mansfield's stories are now in the public domain so anyone can easily read them online.   I recently read and posted on nearly all of her stories (the exceptions being a few very young age stories that I have not yet found online).     I have received number of E-mails asking me where one should start with Mansfield.    (I am a reader not a scholar.    I read a Mansfield story almost by accident six months ago and fell in love with her work.   I also have read and posted on three great books about her as well.)

In observation of the anniversary of her death I have selected three Katherine Mansfield stories that will get a new reader into her work.   All of these stories are easy to read  and enjoyable.  

Because I have a posting each one of Mansfield's stories, I found I can use my blogger stats to see which of her stories are being most widely read throughout the world.    My post on "Miss Brill" is the second most viewed post on my blog (out of 425 posts).   People from all over the world (including Bethlehem on Christmas Day!) have come  to my blog to view my post on "Miss Brill".   Most of the visitors were probably students so I can  for sure say "Miss Brill" is the most assigned in universities worldwide of her stories.     "Miss Brill" is my suggestion for your first (and if it comes to it your only) Katherine Mansfield story.   I have read it several times since my first  post and each time get more from my reading and continue to enjoy the experience.   The first time I read this wonderful story (about 5 pages) I was struck by how much Mansfield was able to put in a few pages and by the stunning undercutting of what I thought was my understanding of the plot as the story closes.     It is a very fun, sad, wise story.

added Jan 16, 2011

16 January 1921

Villa Isola Bella, Menton, France
I I mean something though. Its a very queer thing how craft comes into writing. I mean down to details. Par exemple. In Miss Brill I chose not only the length of every sentence, but even the sound of every sentence – I chose the rise and fall of every paragraph to fit her – and to fit her on that day at that very moment. After Id written it I read it aloud – numbers of times – just as one would play over a musical composition, trying to get it nearer and nearer to the expression of Miss Brill – until it fitted her.
Don't think Im vain about the little sketch. Its the only method I wanted to explain. I often wonder whether other writers do the same. If a thing has really come off it seems to me there mustn't be one single word out of place or one word that could be taken out. Thats how I AIM at writing. It will take some time to get anywhere near there.

"The Doll's House" is set in the New Zealand of the 1890s.     Mansfield has a great passion for her native New Zealand.      "The Doll's House"  is a very closely observed account of children at play.   It showed me how the play of children reflects what they learn from their lives.    In the smallest of details Mansfield builds a world for us.    As an added bonus, Margaret Drabble has recently done a podcast in which she reads the story and comments on it (about 23 minutes).  It can be heard here.   

As "The Garden Party" opens Laura Sheridan under the supervision of her mother is planning a garden party.   Readers in the 1920s in England and New Zealand would be aware that a garden party was meant to be a prestigious near formal occasion and an affair that was found only among the upper classes.   One of the most coveted English society invitations was to the annual Garden party at Buckingham Palace.   Laura is supposed to be in charge but we can quickly see her mother is a bit overbearing.  Rather near the home of the Sheridan's there is what the Sheridan family views as a wretched squalid community.   Right before the party is set to begin they learn one of the workers for  their party who lives in that area was killed in an accident.   Laura wants to stop the party but her mother will not hear it.   After the party the mother has a jolly good charitable idea.   Why not pack up all the left over party food and take it to the family of the man that was killed?  (Of course with no thought to the fact that the cottagers had never eaten food like that all their lives.)   Laura goes into the area where the cottages are located.    Mansfield is such an artist that you can feel Laura's fear as she goes into this area.   It all seems dark and evil and ever so wretched.    Laura goes into the cottage and views the body of the deceased.   It is Laura's reaction to the body of the  man and the multiple interpretations that can be made of this that seem to give this story its power and lasting appeal.

There lay a young man, fast asleep--sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he was far, far away from them both. Oh, so remote, so peaceful. He was dreaming. Never wake him up again. His head was sunk in the pillow, his eyes were closed; they were blind under the closed eyelids. He was given up to his dream. What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane. Happy...happy...All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content.
Mansfield does not tell us what to make of this.   Is Laura just a silly rich girl who did not know that the poor have lives too or does she experience some kind of revelation when she sees the body?   Is this a mockery of  accepted views of death or is it a celebration of  them?   There is a nuch more to the story but I hope some may want to read it so I will not tell more of the plot.

I have read this story several times now and it is a marvelous account of class structures in the 1920s, among many other things.   I quoted a bit from the text so new readers can see her beautiful prose at work.

All these stories can be read at the New Zealand Electronic Text center, a great reading web page.   If you go to you will also find a number of videos relating to Katherine Mansfield.   

Here is a link to all of my Mansfield posts-The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project

I will be posting soon on a great 2010 novel inspired by the life of Katherine Mansfield, In Pursuit by Joann FitzPatrick.    The author has been kind enough to allow me to host a give away for this brilliant look at the full life of Mansfield.   

Mel u


Suko said...

Mel, this post is a great "getting started" guide. I highly recommend The Garden Party, a remarkable short story that shows the intensity of her writing. I look forward to your post on In Pursuit.

Suzanne Yester said...

Thanks for the "Getting Started Guide"! Not knowing much about an author, sometimes it's a bit overwhelming to know where to start and get a feel for her writing. I am also so curious about Joann FitzPatrick's book! Where did she get her inspiration for writing about Ms. Mansfield? I look forward to reading the post about In Pursuit.

Mel u said...

Suko-thanks as always-

Suzanne-I hope I will answer some of your questions on my forthcoming post on Joann FitzPatrick's book on Mansfield-she is also allowing me to offer a give-a-way of the book, open internationally

Hannah said...

Thank you so much, Mel. This guide is a lovely introduction. Mansfield's short stories are high on my list of things to read between heavy classics.

Mel u said...

LifetimeReader-I really admire your project-you might for a break, change of pace, add in one short story a week-one way outside the group of readings you did for the week-thanks for your remarks on my Mansfield guide

Josette said...

Reading this post has inspired me to start reading her stories again! I have not picked up the book, Selected Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield, since I finished my exam last year.

Short Story Slore said...

Love this post! I'm getting started on some of her writings and you just picked out the first 3 :)

Rebecca Chapman said...

I just came across this and thought that you might be interested in it - It is about Katherine Mansfield, its an episode of my favourite radio show here in Australia

Mel u said...

Becky-thanks so much for this great link

Song said...

This is a really good post, Mel. Thank you so much! I downloaded Katherine Mansfield's short story collection from girlebooks a few months ago. But I haven't read a single story. I'd heard a lot about The Garden Party. But I think that's the near the size of a novella, right? I figure I'll start with the other recommendations you've made. They all sound intriguing...

Mel u said...

Risa-thanks so much for your kind words-I will look forward to your thoughts on Mansfield

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks for remembering Katherine Mansfield today. Always good to read your blog. My biography is coming out in paperback shortly - hurray!! Will let you know when. Also in Japanese!

Mel u said...

Kathleen Jones-it is very exciting to hear your wonderful biography of Katherine Mansfield is coming out soon in paperback and the translation into Japanese is very exciting-I get lots of visitors from Japan who come to read my posts on Katherine Mansfield-do let me know when your book comes out in Paperback and Japanese so I can announce it on my blog