I must admit that one of the qualities I really appreciate about the short fiction of Katherine Mansfield is the way that her stories often linger on in our minds and can haunt us. Out of the many short stories of hers I have read, this has easily been the...
I must admit that one of the qualities I really appreciate about the short fiction of Katherine Mansfield is the way that her stories often linger on in our minds and can haunt us. Out of the many short stories of hers I have read, this has easily been the most disturbing as it presents us with a marriage which marked by complete patriarchal superiority and the suggestion of domestic abuse. This is one of the biggest themes of this short story, in my opinion. Note how at the beginning of the story, Frau Brechenmacher submits herself to the every whim of her arrogant and dismissive husband: she gets dressed in the dark because he wants to have "the light" to get himself ready, she has to fasten his buckle, he refuses to slow down because he is afraid of getting his feet damp, forcing her to hurry in the darkness.
As Frau Brechenmacher sits with her friends at the wedding and they talk about the new bride and her husband, they talk about the lot of a wife, saying that each wife has her own "cross" to bear. When this is said to Frau Brechenmacher, she looks at her husband:
Frau Brechenmacher saw her husband among his colleagues at the next table. He was drinking far too much, she knew--gesticulating wildly, the saliva spluttering out of his mouth as he talked.
"Yes," she assented, "that's true. Girls have a lot to learn."
Thus we are presented with a time when women were completely secondary to their husbands and had to bow to their every whim. Most disturbing however comes when the Brechenmacher's return home after the wedding and Herr Brechenmacher is talking fondly of their first night together. After throwing his boots into the corner, which she of course has to go and pick up, he describes her as being "an innocent one" on their first night together. Although domestic abuse is never referred to openly, it is clear that there is the suggestion of violence from such lines as:
"Such a clout on the ear as you gave me... But I soon taught you."
The reference to Herr Brechenmacher "teaching" his wife has sadistic overtones, as does the final paragraph of the story, when Frau Brechenmacher goes to bed and prepares for her husband to come to her:
She lay down on the bed and put her arm across her face like a child who expected to be hurt as Herr Brechenmacher lurched in.
Thus themes of abuse in marriage and the patriarchal supremacy of males are uppermost as we read this moving and poignant story of one woman's marriage and the struggles she faces.