Is there a link between Katherine Mansfield's life experiences and "Miss Brill," "The Little Governess," and "Her First Ball"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The majority of Katherine Mansfield's excellent short stories often relate to her homeland of New Zealand. She famously viewed writing about New Zealand as a "sacred debt" because both she and he brother wore born there, calling it a "debt of love." However, there are a number of examples of her short stories that are based elsewhere, such as "The Little Governess." What seems to link her fiction is the way it presents and explores the position of women in a patriarchal world, where they are often isolated, excluded and in a position of weakness, showing tremendous naivety and innocence in the way they approach the world. This is of course particularly true for "Miss Brill" in the way that she is blind to her own isolation until the end of the story, and "The Little Governess," who has to face economic dependence and exploitation by an elderly man. In "Her First Ball," too, Leila undergoes an epiphany that challenges her youthful innocence about life and beauty.

When we consider Katherine Mansfield's life, we can understand why these films were so important to her work. She herself experienced the particularly isolating position of being female through her desire to go to London and leave New Zealand. After being sent there for schooling for just one year, she had to return to New Zealand, an experience that deeply upset her. Finally, when she was 19, she was allowed to live in London by herself, therefore giving rise to a keen understanding of the position of the female in a man's world by herself. In addition, she lived a somewhat unconventional life, having an affair with a man before marrying him. Her relationship with John Middleton Murry was famed for its tempestuousness and the way that, only three weeks after marrying, they separated again. In short, Mansfield's life experiences would have given her an insight into the curious position that women occupied in her time, which is of course revealed through her presentation of the psychological complexities of women in her fiction.

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