Katherine Mansfield

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What caused Mrs. Fell's change of attitude towards Miss Smith in the end of "A Cup of Tea"?

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In "A Cup of Tea," the wealthy Mrs. Fell is approached by a poor young woman named Miss Smith, who asks for enough money to buy a cup of tea. Mrs. Fell is delighted with her. Feeling as if she is living out a dramatic story in a novel, she sweeps Miss Smith up with her and takes her home.

Miss Smith is a charming acquisition for Mrs. Fell, like the exquisite enameled box she didn't buy in the shop. This attitude changes when her husband takes her aside and says to her,

She's absolutely lovely. . . . I was bowled over when I came into your room just now.

Suddenly, Miss Smith goes from being a charming toy to play with to a deep threat to Mrs. Fell's happiness. After her husband says this, Mrs. Fell pulls fifteen pounds out of her drawer (the equivalent of about several hundred dollars) and sends Miss Smith off with it. She then tells her husband that it was Miss Smith who insisted on leaving. Mrs. Fell herself is not pretty, as we learn in the opening of the story, where the narrator says,

Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. No, you couldn't have called her beautiful. Pretty? Well, if you took her to pieces . . . But why be so cruel as to take anyone to pieces?

She is insecure about this, at the end of the story asking her husband if he finds her pretty.

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