Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Katherine Mansfield stories

Katherine Mansfield’s stories mainly struck me as having the same sorts of domestic concerns that Woolf’s stories often have, though Mansfield didn’t seem quite as concerned with experimentation. I noticed that her natural references (particularly with flowers) were a lot more specific than those in Woolf’s stories, though I wasn’t sure if there was any particular symbolism in that (though it seemed with the aloe in “Prelude” and the pear tree in “Bliss” at least, that there must be) or if it had more to do with Mansfield just wanting to establish a sense of place in her stories (I hadn’t been sure what kind of influence her New Zealand background would have in her writing). I mainly wondered exactly how much influence Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury group had on her stories, or if they just had the same interests (though given the dates on these stories, I was more inclined to think the former), especially since Mrs. Harry Kember’s description in “At the Bay” (259) sounded like it could have been inspired by Woolf, though it seemed Mansfield may have just meant this character as a more general representative of New Woman characteristics, to distinguish Beryl (and possibly by extension, Mansfield) from this kind of stereotypical representation. I was surprised by “At the Bay,” since when I read “Prelude” I’d just figured that its title was indication that it was meant as a single episode in these characters’ lives that wanted you to guess at what would happen to them (with aloe then possibly representing some sort of potential that each protagonist had that you wouldn’t know would be reached or squandered), so I wasn’t expecting a sequel (though the same kinds of questions remain for the most part about what directions these characters would ultimately take).

In relation to these stories, “The Garden Party” surprised me more in how relatively straightforward it is. I’m not sure I agree with the Norton edition’s apparent assumption that Little Women was such a major influence on this story (though having an upper-class boy named Laurie does seem like a big coincidence, but I thought maybe that also could have been a more common name back then, like Meg and Josephine), since it reminded me so much of Mrs. Dalloway (though I know this story came first) and Howards End (with Laura’s struggles to be sensitive to the less fortunate). I don’t know that the latter work was so much of a direct influence, but it did read a bit as though maybe Mansfield was trying to take the basic premise Woolf would use in Mrs. Dalloway (at least as far as the Clarissa/Septimus dyad) and show how it would work with an adolescent, rather than middle-aged, heroine. Her interest in the trials of adolescence (and how they are affected by class) may have been where Little Women could have been an influence, though I wasn’t sure that she was specifically considering adolescent readers as part of her audience. But since the main theme of Mansfield’s stories overall (or at least these ones) seems to be the issue of how women deal with (or try to deny) disillusionment in their domestic lives, it appeared as though this story may have also reflected an effort to show a heroine who attempts to face these concerns more directly rather than when she’s older and either married or considered a spinster.

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