Her First Ball Analysis

Style and Technique (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When scholars pored over Mansfield’s autograph manuscripts and journals, they were struck by her poor spelling and her eccentric grammar. Even so, Mansfield’s style is geared to pictorial rather than verbal vividness. For example, “Her First Ball,” though narrated in the third person, re-creates the ball as Leila sees it: vivid colors, swift movements, ravishing music. It presents an important moment, perceived with the intensity possible only for a sensitive and impressionable young person. Indeed, the story is told with the manic mood swings of an adolescent. Like a musical composition, its tempos vary from allegro (the quickly narrated sections of Leila’s arrival and first dances) to maestoso (the melancholy sadness following the fat man’s words) to allegro vivace (when Leila dances with the curly haired young man). Often the words reproduce a waltz rhythm: “in one minute, in one turn, her feet glided, glided. The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel.”

Mansfield was born Kathleen Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand. When she became nineteen she changed her name to Katherine Mansfield, joining an altered first name to her mother’s maiden name. She was not an only child, but she was lonely, and her early trip to Europe made her bloom as surely as Leila at her first ball. Mansfield’s pictorial intensity is the single most distinguishing element of her writing technique; it brought her to the notice of the Bloomsbury writers and caused Virginia Woolf to say, “I was jealous of her writing. The only writing I have ever been jealous of.”