‘‘Marriage á la Mode,’’ published in 1921 as part of the collection The Garden Party, and Other Stories, was the last of Katherine Mansfield’s stories dealing with the shallow London bohemian art world, a world which Mansfield knew all too well. The story has often been compared to the better-known ‘‘Bliss,’’ published the previous year. Like its predecessor, ‘‘Marriage á la Mode’’ satirizes the shallow denizens of the art circles, while presenting an unfolding (apparently irretrievable) domestic drama.
In ‘‘Marriage á la Mode,’’ Mansfield creates a world ruled by parasitic, immature, and unfulfilled adults. Both the characters themselves and Mansfield’s choice of imagery convey the essential hollowness of these people’s lives. Every detail in the story adds to this impression, from a strawberry bonnet to conversational quirks. Again, Mansfield demonstrates her talent for keen characterization and subtle observation.
Mansfield also delves into the psychology of her main protagonists—the husband and wife—by giving voice to each character. While these characters, both the victim and the victimizer, may hardly be likable people, their evocation at Mansfield’s skillful hand leads to a clear picture of them, the world they inhabit, and the way they want to live. The brief story could be called a ‘‘slice of life,’’ yet Mansfield, as she does in so many of her works, chooses a significant period, one that will inevitably lead to profound change.
Mansfield’s contemporary readers remarked on the clarity of vision in The Garden Party. Though in many stories, the incidents were slight, perhaps even commonplace, this in no way detracts from their power; indeed, Mansfield’s genius derives from her unsentimental way of drawing attention to the day-to-day events which add up to the sum of a life.