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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Katherine Mansfield in Paris- Two Short Stories with a Poem

To L. H. B. (1894–1915)

Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream.
We were at home again beside the stream
Fringed with tall berry bushes, white and red.
“Don't touch them : they are poisonous,” I said.
But your hand hovered, and I saw a beam
Of strange, bright laughter flying round your head
And as you stooped I saw the berries gleam.
“Don't you remember ? We called them Dead Man's Bread !”
I woke and heard the wind moan and the roar
Of the dark water tumbling on the shore.
Where-where is the path of my dream for my eager feet ?
By the remembered stream my brother stands
Waiting for me with berries in his hands …
“These are my body. Sister, take and eat.”  Katherine Mansfield

This is my third year as a participant in the Paris in July Reading Event hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea.   I find this a very interesting and creative event of the sort that helps build the book blog community.  You will find  lots of reading ideas on the host blogs.  I am greatly enjoying participating in this event.  It has motivated me to revisit the work of some of the true giants of European literature, Marcel Proust, Guy de Maupassant, Colette,  Andre Gide, Honore Balzac ,Zola and Dumas. We visited Edgar Allan Poe, The Marquis de Sade and Irene Nemirovsky.  

Today we will spend some time with Katherine Mansfield.  Mansfield was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1888.  She died in France in 1923 and was buried in Avon, near Paris.  She was in France seeking a cure for TB from at Georges Gurdjideff's Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Fontainebleau.  

Katherine Mansfield means a great deal to me.   I have  an article in the journal of the Katherine Mansfield society.  I have written some seventy five posts on her work,  far more than any other author.  I have read several biographies and some novels based on her life.  I value her as a person and deeply regret her way to early death.  I know she deeply craved a home she never really found once she left New Zealand.  Her time in Paris might have been as close as she ever came to it.   

I was going to talk about Mansfield's relationship to Paris and why it is important to understand this to grasp her work and respect her life but you can learn more about this from excellent books by Kathleen Jones and Linda Lappin than I could convey so I will just post briefly on two of her set in Paris short stories.

"Je Ne Parle Pas Francais" is told in the first person by an English man who came to live in Paris with the hope that it would inspire his writing.   The first reaction on reading this story has to be that Mansfield is making use of her husband John Middleton Murray in this narrative.    Much of the story takes place in a cafe.  Mansfield loved the Cafes of Paris where one could sit for hours for the price of a cup of coffee or glass of wine.  The narrator meets another aspiring writer, a man, and the story turns on their relationship.   I cannot help but read in lieu of what I know of the life of Mansfield and the picture of the male character is hardly flattering.  This is one of Mansfield's longest stories.  You can easily find it online.

"Pension Sequin" is set in  boarding house in Paris.  An English woman is at the door asking if they have a room.  The fun in this great story is in the acute observations of the woman, in the interplay of the people in the house and the landlady.  Once she left New Zealand Mansfield always lived in rented houses and rooms, never staying anywhere much longer than a year.  I think Paris represented a kind of place of freedom for Mansfield where she could throw off some of the repressions of her raising.  It was where her beloved brother was killed in 1915 in WWI.

Mel u


ds said...

Thanks for sharing Mansfield's beautiful elegy for her brother, and for the info on the short stories, which I will look up.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks for sharing Mel - it always makes me want to cry when I look at her grave and her brothers. So sad. But at least we've still got her work.

Carole said...

Lovley post - I didn't realise that is where she was buried - next time I'm lucky enough to be in France I'll visit it.

Linda Lappin said...

Thanks for this. So poignant to see their graves. This photo of Katherine is one of my favorites. I have always wondered about what happened to the Buddha which i think belonged to Ida baker.

Linda Lappin said...

HI Mel, I posted an older essay on visiting Mansfield's grave at the Prieure. Looking closely at the photo you added, i think I recognize one I took, with the ivy in the bowl described here.....

Louise said...

What a great post, your passion for Katherine Mansfield and her work shines through, so interesting to tie it to Paris. I've visited Katherine's house on a trip to Wellington a few years ago and have bought a collection of her short stories with great intentions of reading them, but haven't managed it as yet, perhaps I should start with these two? They sound fascinating.