Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

When a writer’s meanings are intentionally ambiguous, the reader can almost always depend on the techniques used to express those meanings to be clear. As an artist, Mansfield is an impressionist; as impressionist painters offer a single image charged with emotion, she focuses on a single image, Bertha standing with Pearl communing with the pear tree, and a single emotion, bliss. The image is sharpened, the emotion is intensified, by the controlled use of two major devices: point of view and a style that evolves most naturally out of it.

The point of view is third-person, central intelligence; that is, all elements of the story are to be taken by the reader as having been filtered through Bertha’s perceptions. As Bertha responds emotionally, imaginatively, and to a lesser extent intellectually, the reader receives her psychological impressions, expressed in the third person by the author in a style carefully controlled, paragraph by paragraph, to suit Bertha, on this particular day, at each instant. The reader should anticipate that Bertha’s perceptions, like those of all human beings, are likely to be in error, to be flawed, or distorted, especially considering the fact that on this day a single powerful emotion is sweeping her along through the hours: bliss.

The surprise ending is one of those literary devices most often open to abuse or misinterpretation. Commercial writers use this device to stimulate a transitory thrill. The serious writer knows that a surprise ending may generate numerous misleading,...

(The entire section is 632 words.)

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Post-World War I Art
In the aftermath of the devastation of World War I, artists expressed their shock at the horrors of war and...

(The entire section is 721 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View and Narration
The story is told from a third person, limited point of view. This means that readers are privy to...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

This story reveals Mansfield's mastery of several techniques. There is no conventional narrator. The story moves freely back and forth...

(The entire section is 114 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1920s: Between 1910 and 1920, the number of divorces in Britain tripled, from about 600 to 1,700. The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1923...

(The entire section is 231 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Read another of Katherine’s Mansfield’s London stories, such as ‘‘Marriage à la Mode.’’ Then compare Mansfield’s use of satire...

(The entire section is 169 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

When Mansfield wrote "The Little Governess," James Joyce, A. E. Coppard, and D. H. Lawrence were developing their own techniques in short...

(The entire section is 85 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

"Bliss," written in 1918, represents the flowering of Mansfield's mature style. If one compares it with "The Little Governess," written in...

(The entire section is 900 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

Like ‘‘Bliss,’’ Ellen Glasgow’s 1923 story ‘‘The Difference’’ explores the consequences of adultery when a Victorian woman...

(The entire section is 129 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

Aiken, Conrad, Review of Bliss, and Other Stories, Freeman, May 11, 1921, p. 210.

Cowly, Malcolm,...

(The entire section is 269 words.)