Study Guide

Prelude; and At the Bay

by Katherine Mansfield

Prelude; and At the Bay Summary

Summary (Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Prelude” describes a move that the Burnell family makes from one house to another. With most of their possessions already in transit, the Burnell women are in a buggy that is packed so tightly that there is no room for Lottie and Kezia. Mrs. Fairchild decides to leave the children with a neighbor until they can be brought later by the grocery man in his wagon. For Kezia and Lottie, the journey to the new house begins at night when everything familiar is left behind, and the carriage rattles into unknown country and along new roads and steep hills, down into bushy valleys and through wide shallow rivers. As they reach the great new house, it appears to Kezia as a soft white bulk stretched on a green garden.

When they enter the house, Kezia’s lamp reveals wallpaper covered with flying parrots. The dining room has a fireplace, and this center is occupied by the family. The windows are bare but, by the next morning, Beryl will have hung red serge curtains. From this point on, there is a careful room-by-room description of the house. There are four bedrooms upstairs. The servants sleep downstairs in rooms just behind the kitchen. From the windows of the kitchen it is possible to see the washhouse and scullery. The nursery has a fireplace and a table where the children have their meals. The drawing room is described after it has been put in order. As Beryl and Mrs. Fairchild establish daily routines, there emerges a complete floor plan of the house and yards. The windows and the views from them orient the house to the garden and to the light of the sun and the moon. Packing cases disappear, beds are made, pictures are hung, the kitchen is made neat, and everything is put in pairs and on shelves. Daily life is organized into patterns.

Plans, also, are made: Mrs. Fairchild will make jam in the autumn; Stanley speaks of bringing men home from the office for Saturday lunch and tennis. The...

(The entire section is 782 words.)