Katherine Mansfield

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Discuss Katherine Mansfield's style as a short story writer.

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Katherine Mansfield, like her friend Virginia Woolf, was trying in the years during and after World War I to write in a new way, a way that would use language to reveal truths the Edwardians usually kept hidden. She used simple, childlike language and usually, but not always, a stream-of-consciousness style that showed the impressions flowing through a character's mind. She captured the thoughts (the interiority) of her characters—often shown later to be in error—as they were happening. This is typical of the experimental, modernist prose of her era.

Katherine Mansfield's long short story "The Prelude" was the first publication of the Hogarth Press, Virginia and Leonard Woolf's publishing company. They were looking for new, edgy, state-of-the-art writing that would challenge old norms. They published this groundbreaking and influential story in 1917 as a stand-alone volume.

It is told in a stream-of-consciousness way, largely through the eyes of female children and women, though there is a section showing the family patriarch's point-of-view as he comes home from work. It challenges Victorian portraits of the idyllic, loving family by showing that the two younger daughters are treated indifferently and seemingly are unloved. It breaks taboo ground in having the wife openly think about how much she dislikes sex with her husband. As with her other stories, Mansfield uses simple prose and striking images to convey her ideas.

Other famous Mansfield stories are "The Garden Party," an exploration of the British class divide; "Miss Brill," a study of an elderly and marginalized single woman; and "The Fly," a cry of rage at the senseless slaughter of World War I, which Mansfield likened to slowly torturing a fly to death.

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Katherine Mansfield, born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp, left her native New Zealand for London when she was nineteen and lived in Europe for most of her life until she died in 1923, at 34, from tuberculosis.

Her early exposure to the Maori led her to write sympathetically of them in her later years. Stories like "Prelude" and "How Pearl Button was Kidnapped" observe the repressive nature of colonialism.

Mansfield lived as a bohemian and was influenced by artistic movements like Fauvism, with its emphasis on individual expression, and the literary movement of Modernism, which rejected traditional structural aspects of stories like expositions and conclusions and sought to capture the disillusionment of life after WWI.

One of her most famous stories, "The Garden Party," revisits and refines themes found in her earlier works, especially the divisions of social class along both racial and economic lines. Despite a comfortable upbringing, Mansfield was sensitive to people whose circumstances were reduced through no fault of their own.

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