Late one afternoon, as Bertha Young turns a corner onto her street, her body and mind suddenly feel total bliss. Only the conscious constraints of “civilization” keep her from running, dancing, and laughing.
Inside her house, she tells her housekeeper to bring her a bowl of fruit so she can decorate the table where she is to give a dinner party that night. The beauty of the fruit on the table makes her laugh almost hysterically.
Bertha runs upstairs to the nursery and begs the nurse to allow her to hold her infant daughter, Little Bertha. The nurse resentfully consents. As Bertha fondles and kisses her child, bliss again overwhelms her. The nurse returns, tells her she is wanted on the telephone, and triumphantly seizes “her Little Bertha.” On the telephone, Bertha’s husband, Harry, tells her that he will be home a little late. She has an urge to tell him how she feels but represses it.
Anticipating seeing Miss Pearl Fulton, a lovely, mysterious blond woman, a recent acquaintance, who is to attend the dinner party, Bertha feels bliss again, and goes to the drawing-room window and looks across the garden at a lovely pear tree in full, perfect bloom. To her, it is “a symbol of her own life”: She is young; she and her husband are “really good pals”; she has a baby, no money worries, a house and garden, artistic friends, books, music, a wonderful dressmaker, a fine new cook; and a trip abroad is planned for the summer.
Mr. and Mrs. Norman Knight arrive for the dinner party; he is a would-be theatrical producer and she is an interior decorator. Eddie Warren, socially in demand as the author of a “little book of poems,” arrives. In a characteristic explosion of energy, Bertha’s husband arrives, and just behind him comes the alluring Pearl Fulton.
As the guests exchange witty remarks and gestures, Bertha, convinced her mood is shared by Pearl, watches for a “sign.” When Pearl asks to see the garden, Bertha pulls the curtains and presents the pear tree, which now resembles Pearl. Bertha has a profound feeling of oneness with Pearl and wishes her husband, who behaves as if he dislikes Pearl, would share her feelings. Suddenly, Bertha feels another powerful emotion—sexual desire for her husband, “for the first time in her life.”
The guests begin to leave. As she listens to the poet express his enthusiasm for “an incredibly beautiful line” of poetry, “Why must it always be tomato soup?” Bertha looks out into the hall, where her husband appears to be arranging a romantic rendezvous with Pearl. Bertha runs to the windows and looks out, crying “What is going to happen now?” The pear tree, however, is “as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.”
“Bliss” begins with Bertha, a young wealthy woman married to Harry Young, in a state of bliss. As usual, Mansfield can evoke the wonders of being alive. The spring afternoon is brilliant, the fruit has arrived for her to arrange, her lovely baby seems happy with her nanny, some sophisticated friends are coming to dinner, and her house looks beautiful. Bertha sees herself in the mirror, and she thinks that something wonderful is about to happen.
Things are not quite so nice as they seem. Once again, the details tell the story. The nanny bosses Bertha around. Bertha herself is a bit childish. Harry will be late; when he does arrive, he makes an abrasive remark. One guest, Miss Fulton, is mysterious, as are some cats prowling around in the garden. A tree, however, bodes well, a tree described with Mansfield’s customary evocativeness. Bertha sees “the lovely pear tree with its wide open blossoms as a symbol of her own life.”
The guests arrive, and Mansfield shows her ability to satirize the social world of poets and painters. One guest wears a dress that shows a procession of monkeys; married couples call each other by silly names; a languid homosexual playwright has had a bad experience with his taxi driver. Harry, Bertha’s down-to-earth...
(The entire section is 1,471 words.)