Widely anthologized, "The Garden Party" is considered Katherine Mansfield's finest piece of short fiction. Such modernist authors as Virginia Woolf were profoundly influenced by Mansfield's stream-of-consciousness and symbolic narrative style. ''The Garden Party'' is a remarkably rich and innovative work that incorporates Mansfield's defining themes: New Zealand, childhood, adulthood, social class, class conflict, innocence, and experience.
Structured around an early afternoon garden party in New Zealand, "The Garden Party" has clear connections to Mansfield's own childhood and adolescence in New Zealand. The main character of the story, Laura, is an idealistic young girl who wishes to cancel the planned afternoon gathering when she learns of the death of a working-class laborer who lives down the hill from her parents' home. The story concerns Laura's alternating moments of resistance and conformity to her mother's idea of class relations. Like Laura, Mansfield was the daughter of a well-to-do businessman—Harold Beauchamp—and his wife, Annie Burnell Dyer Beauchamp. Like the Sheridans in "The Garden Party," the Beauchamps lived luxuriously, in grand houses in and around Wellington, New Zealand.
"The Garden Party" was first published in 1922 in a collection entitled The Garden Party and Other Stories and immediately became a classic example of the short story form. In an essay published in 1957, Warren S. Walker wrote, "The most frequently anthologized of Katherine Mansfield's works, 'The Garden Party' has long enjoyed a reputation for near-perfection in the art of the short story." In her time, Mansfield was seen as one of the prime innovators of the short story form. After Mansfield's death in 1923, Virginia Woolf would remark in her diary, "I was jealous of her writing—the only writing I have ever been jealous of." Even though it has enjoyed a fine reputation, critics and readers alike have puzzled over what they see as an unsatisfactory ending—an ending that, as Warren Walker remarks, "leaves readers with a feeling of dissatisfaction, a vague sense that the story somehow does not realize its potential."