Katherine Mansfield

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What kind of a relationship do Rosemary and Philip share in "A Cup of Tea"?

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In "A Cup of Tea," Rosemary walks into a shop and sees a beautiful and expensive little box that costs twenty eight guineas. She asks the proprietor to keep it for her, and it seems evident that she is debating the cost. As she's leaving, a young woman, a beggar, asks her for enough money to buy a cup of tea. Rosemary has these wonderful intentions to help the woman, Miss Smith, who has no money at all. In fact, Rosemary fantasizes about helping Miss Smith by taking care of her indefinitely, and she takes the young woman home to begin to care for her. When Rosemary explains her intentions to her husband, Philip, who has just seen Miss Smith, he calls her "'mad'" and insists that "'It simply can't be done.'" Rosemary begins to argue with him when he interrupts to tell her that Miss Smith is so pretty. This stops Rosemary in her tracks. We might wonder if Philip really doesn't want Rosemary helping Miss Smith, and so he says the one thing he knows would stop Rosemary from opposing him.

A moment later, Philip repeats his praise of Miss Smith's beauty, calling Rosemary, "'my child.'" From a husband to a wife, this is a pretty shocking term of endearment. She's his wife, his peer and partner, not a child who needs petted and coddled. We begin to understand that Philip thinks of his wife not as an equal but as someone lesser than he, someone to be petted and coddled, like a child. Rosemary leaves, going to her room to fix her hair and put on make-up and jewelry; we see her count out five one-pound notes, and then return two of them to the drawer. Her husband's manipulation has worked. He made Rosemary jealous, and so she evidently gives Miss Smith-- to whom she made such promises of a new life--three pounds and sends her away. In the end, Philip calls Rosemary his "'little wasteful one'" when she asks for the expensive box, and she asks him if she's pretty. Rosemary seems like a doll, interested in pretty things like flowers and enamel boxes, and she wants to be appreciated for her beauty--even more so than for her good intentions and generosity toward Miss Smith. Philip wants a pretty and submissive wife, and Rosemary wants her husband to think of her as pretty, and so she defers to him in order to retain his good opinion (and not have to share it with another woman).

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