History of the Text

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 315

Publication History and Reception: By the time “The Fly” was published in 1922, Katherine Mansfield had already established herself as a writer in London. Her 1920 collection Bliss was well-received and earned her a reputation as a writer redefining the short story in the early 20th century. However, the year 1922 saw the height of her literary prowess when she published “The Garden Party” and “The Fly.” Though “The Garden Party” is more renowned, “The Fly” is also heralded. Mansfield died in 1923 due to complications from tuberculosis.

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Modernism in Great Britain: Modernism is a literary movement that developed at the turn of the 20th century and extended through the 1950s. Developed by writers such as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot, modernists played with the fictional portrayal of human consciousness and the passage of time. Modernists often focused on the psychological experience of a character as opposed to the narrative events in a character’s life. Similarly, modernists made use of nonlinear narrative structures to develop their plots. World War I acted as a catalyst for the modernist movement, particularly in Great Britain. It provoked writers to address the human propensity for cruelty and destruction, as well as how technological advances could bring catastrophe.

  • “The Fly” as a Modernist Text: Although she was raised in New Zealand, Mansfield was educated and spent extended periods of her adult life in Europe and Great Britain, where she hobnobbed with modernist writers Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, and T. S. Eliot. “The Fly” reflects modernist tendencies in several ways. The story begins from Mr. Woodifield’s point of view before shifting to the boss’s perspective. The story’s ambiguity with regard to place and time is also a modernist touch. Further, the subjects of mortality, grief, and callousness toward death reflect the moral disillusionment at play in the wake of World War I—a central topic among modernist writers.

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