Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
One can appreciate Mansfield’s craft by noting the various ways in which she balances the “class distinctions” with which Laura grapples. The perfectly maintained garden provides escape from the less appealing working-class neighborhood, but it is working people who provide its necessary labor. The family diverts itself with canna lilies, finger sandwiches, party dresses, and cream puffs, but their pleasures are repeatedly interrupted. Laura’s mind entertains the perspective of both classes. Although some writers would present ideas about class distinctions in the form of satire, Mansfield fashions “The Garden Party” to suggest—rather than to state—themes. There is such a fluid movement to the story—and such an upbeat mood—that a reader, like Laura herself, may almost be distracted from serious matters such as poverty and death.
Managing point of view is one of the techniques that Mansfield uses to plant her ironies. The happiness in the opening paragraph turns out to be part of the complacency of the upper class. Note the breathless wording: “Hundreds, yes, literally hundreds [of roses], have come out in a single night.” Such language has no place in the Scott house, where Mrs. Scott’s swollen red face cows Laura. The reader, therefore, learns to doubt some of the statements, and to consider from which character’s perspective they originate. One senses Jose’s practicality when she uses the word “extravagant” to dismiss...
(The entire section is 424 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Katherine Mansfield's "The Garden Party" was written in 1922 during the period between the two world wars. In many ways it reflects the context of its creation. The 1920s saw enormous political and social disturbance throughout Europe. In the new Soviet Union, for example, the Marxist revolution was nearing completion. The Soviet Union's powerful leader, V. I. Lenin, had succeeded in wresting control from the Russian aristocracy and was establishing a system of agricultural collectivization in the rural parts of the Soviet Union. In parts of Europe, political groups were beginning to promote fascism—a philosophy that supports a government of unlimited power, often ruled by a dictator. These changes alarmed many and prompted people everywhere to discuss issues related to the class systems that existed during the period.
World War I and the political and social upheavals of the mid-war years had tangible effects on the arts and literature. Katherine Mansfield like many others in England and elsewhere, felt the impact of the war, as her beloved brother was killed. Other writers and artists were similarly affected by the psychological and cultural fallout of the war. In his 1922 poem The Waste Land, for example T. S. Eliot characterizes his sense of individual alienation and cultural uncertainty,...
(The entire section is 326 words.)
Katherine Mansfield's short story "The Garden Party" employs a style that is distinctly modern in its use of impressionistic detail and stream-of-consciousness narrative method. These stylistic features also characterize the works of Virginia Woolf Dorothy Richardson, and other innovative writers of the 1920s and 1930s.
The narrative begins in "the middle of things"—in media res. The narrative voice describes the scene in a casual and immediate manner which at once establishes an intimacy with the reader—"And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for the garden party if they had ordered it." The almost confidential presentation of such objective facts establishes the narrative voice as the central consciousness of the story—one that perceives and interprets experience and that also, for most of the story, melds with the character of Laura. As the reader is made privy to authorial confidences and interpretation, an appeal is made to identify with Laura's and the narrator's point of view. The reader is drawn into this "central" consciousness gradually, gaining access to Laura's sensibility through constant access to her perception and emotional responses. Most often, the alternation between a third-person narrative voice and Laura's own perception is demonstrated in single sentences, the transition occurring without...
(The entire section is 817 words.)
"The Garden-Party" belongs to Mansfield's last group of stories. A number of these stories are held together by plot, what critic Joanne Trautmann Banks calls "a line that moves softly to an end" — a story element that almost disappeared from stories in Mansfield's middle period. This story line controls the direction of the work rather than the particular point of view of any individual character. Laura does not dominate in the way that Bertha Young dominates "Bliss" or Raoul Duquette dominates "Je ne parle pas francais." Rather, early in the story we encounter a multitude of attitudes toward the afternoon festivities, one of which is Laura's. Even at the end of the story where Laura's point of view is dominant, the total picture of Laura's visit to the grieving family is as memorable as Laura's individual responses to the face of death.
(The entire section is 142 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1920s: With the advent of the modernist movement, writers, artists, and musicians struggled to express the alienation they felt toward Western culture.
1990s: Cultural commentators are still drawing inspiration from the disconnection they perceive with their values and popular culture. A term "Generation X" has been coined to describe a whole generation of people that is thought to feel alienated from the rest of society.
1920s: Stalin establishes himself as dictator of the Soviet Union and proceeds to purge his people of dissent.
1990s: The Soviet Union has deteriorated into a debt-ridden Russian Republic. Democratic institutions are weak but existent.
1920s: Harold Ware demonstrates mechanized farming to the Soviets. He also takes volunteers and $150,000 of equipment and seed to a 15,000 acre demonstration farm near Moscow.
1990s: America helps Russia avert a food shortage by loaning it money to buy American grain. The grain, which would otherwise have been dumped, is being bought at a price higher than its current market value.
(The entire section is 161 words.)
Topics for Further Study
Investigate the literary movement of Modernism in the 1920s. You may want to consult sources such as A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writers, by Hugh Kenner (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), and The First Moderns: Profiles in the Origins of Twentieth-Century Thought, by William R. Everdell (University of Chicago Press, 1997). What contributions did Katherine Mansfield make to the then literary avant-garde? What were some of other modernist innovations in poetry, in art and in music?
Research one of the major historical topics of the 1920s and before: World War I the rise of fascism, the spread of Marxism, British imperialism, the European and American stock markets, unionism, feminism, gay life. How did these events affect the rich? In what ways did they affect the poor differently?
Investigate Katherine Mansfield's correspondence and journals. Consider the connections between their subjects of concern and the concerns of her fiction, especially "The Garden Party."
(The entire section is 150 words.)
Theocritus's XVth idyll serves as a literary precedent for the shape of "The Garden-Party." In that dramatic poem, two young women visit the festival of Adonis. Most of the dialogue concerns their sophisticated, superficial comments about their lives and about what they see in the crowded streets as they make their way to the festival. As T. O. Beachcroft notes, they are "foolish, yet endearing . . . put before us in all their human frailty with loving care." When the two Greek women arrive at the festival, they witness a performance of a mystical poem about Adonis which deeply moves them. After the performance, they are unable to articulate the experience they have had.
In "The Garden-Party," the presentation of the Sheridan family is at first characterized by bright, airy conversation as the various members of the household prepare for the party. The Sheridans appear both foolish and endearing as they go about their business. In the second part of the story, Laura is transported to a different order of experience when she enters the neighbors' lane and encounters the unveiled faces of grief and death. Taken by themselves, Laura's remarks to her brother when she returns from the dead worker's cottage appear completely inadequate to what she has witnessed. Nevertheless, because of their essentially dramatic form, both works leave the reader with the impression that something important, perhaps transcendent, has occurred.
(The entire section is 230 words.)
Like "Prelude" and "At the Bay," "The Garden-Party" is based on events that occurred in New Zealand during Mansfield's youth. In 1907, the year before she left New Zealand for good, Mansfield's mother gave a garden party that was marred by a fatal accident in the working-class neighborhood on the next street. The Sheridans are essentially the same family as the Burnells in the other stories, only at a later point in their history.
(The entire section is 73 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
Bliss and Other Stories (1920), The Garden Party and Other Stories(1922), The Doves Nest and Other Stories (1923), Something Childish and Other Stories (1924) were all written by Katherine Mansfield. The collections of stories listed above are crucial to examine for Katherine Mansfield's narrative innovations and for the diverse number of subjects and characters that her stories concern. These are also prime examples of literary modernism in the 1920s.
The Tunnel, a collection of twenty-four vignettes by Dorothy Richardson, was written in 1919. Dorothy Richardson was a great influence on Katherine Mansfield especially in regards to Mansfield's stylistic innovations. While different in content and subject-matter, these pieces are interesting to read as examples of early twentieth-century female modernism.
To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf's most famous novel, was published in 1928. Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield were friends and were great influences on one another. After Mansfield died, Woolf noted that she was the only writer of whom she was jealous. To the Lighthouse is a masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness narrative, and, as such, it shares similarities to...
(The entire section is 364 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Fulbrook, Kate. "Late Fiction," in Katherine Mansfield, Harvester Press, 1986, pp. 86-128.
Hanson, Clare, and Andrew Gurr. "The Stories 1921-22: Sierre and Paris," in their Katherine Mansfield, New York: St. Martin's Press, 1981, pp. 95-139.
Iverson, Anders. "A Reading of Katherine Mansfield's 'The Garden Party,'" in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 23, 1968, pp. 5-34.
Taylor, Donald S. "Crashing the Garden Party, I: A Dream—A Wakening," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. IV, No. 4, Winter, 1958-59, pp. 361-62.
Walker, Warren S. "The Unresolved Conflict in the 'The Garden Party,'" in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. III, No. 4, Winter, 1957-58, pp. 354-58.
Weiss, Daniel A. "Crashing the Garden Party, II: The Garden Party of Proserpina," in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. IV, No. 4, Winter, 1958-59, pp. 363-64.
Fulbrook, Kate. "Late Fiction," in Katherine Mansfield, Harvester Press, 1986, pp. 86-128. In this feminist critique, Fulbrook argues that Mansfield satirizes female ignorance in ‘‘The Garden Party,’’ and that she attacks the "inadequacy of education" that fosters such calloused social perceptions.
Iverson, Anders. "A Reading of Katherine Mansfield's 'The Garden Party,'" in Orbis Litterarum, Vol. 23, 1968, pp. 5-34. Iversen looks at the...
(The entire section is 312 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Bell, Barbara Currier. “Non-Identical Twins: Nature in ‘The Garden Party’ and ‘The Grave.’” The Comparatist 12 (May, 1988): 58-66. Examines the meaning of nature in both short stories. Provides insight into Mansfield’s use of nature in most of her short fiction.
Boddy, Gillian. Katherine Mansfield: The Woman and the Writer. New York: Penguin Books, 1988. An extensive biography of Mansfield. Discusses her life in the context of her writings and experiences.
Daly, Saralyn R. Katherine Mansfield. New York: Twayne, 1965. Chapter 6 is the most useful in terms of understanding themes and meanings; however the entire book lends insight into Mansfield as a writer.
Kaplan, Sydney Janet. Katherine Mansfield and the Origins of Modernist Fiction. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991. Chapter 8 offers another tool for analysis of Mansfield’s characters. Stresses that a feminist approach is applicable to the interpretation of her works.
Rohrberger, Mary. The Art of Katherine Mansfield. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1977. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are principally concerned with explaining the themes and techniques used in The Garden Party and Other Stories and other short stories. Extensive bibliographic notes and index....
(The entire section is 181 words.)