Katherine Mansfield Mansfield, Katherine - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Katherine Mansfield 1888-1923

(Born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp) New Zealander short story writer, critic, and poet.

The following entry provides an overview of Mansfield's short fiction. See also The Garden Party Criticism and The Fly Criticism.

Mansfield is a central figure in the development of the modern short story. An early practitioner of stream-of-consciousness narration, she applied this technique to create stories based on the illumination of character rather than the development of plot. Her works, which treat such universal concerns as family and love relationships and the everyday experiences of childhood, are noted for their distinctive wit, psychological acuity, and perceptive characterization.

Biographical Information

Mansfield was born into a prosperous family in Wellington, New Zealand, and attended school in England in her early teens. She returned home after completing her education but was thereafter dissatisfied with colonial life; at nineteen she persuaded her parents to allow her to return to England. She became pregnant shortly after leaving home and entered into a hasty marriage with George Bowden, a young musician, whom she left the next day. Her mother arranged for her removal to a German spa, where she miscarried. Mansfield returned to England after a period of recuperation, during which she wrote the short stories in her first collection, In a German Pension (1911). Between 1911 and 1915 Mansfield published short stories and book reviews in such magazines as Athenaeum, New Age, Open Window, and Rhythm. In 1912 she met editor and critic John Middleton Murry and was soon sharing the editorship of the Blue Review and Rhythm with him. The two began living together and married in 1918, when Bowden finally consented to a divorce. Never in vigorous health, Mansfield was severely weakened by tuberculosis in the early 1920s. Nonetheless, she worked almost continuously, writing until the last few months of her life. She died in 1923 at the age of thirty-four.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Offering satiric commentary on the attitudes and behavior of the German people, the stories of Mansfield's first collection, In a German Pension, focus on themes relating to sexual relationships, female subjugation, and childbearing. Critics have found that these stories—although less technically accomplished than Mansfield's later fiction—evince her characteristic wit and perception, in particular her effective portrayal of female psychology and the complexity of human emotion. Scholars have also noted the sense of estrangement and the intense desire for human connection inherent in these early works. Mansfield incorporated a wealth of material from her New Zealand childhood in her later stories, collected in Bliss (1921) and The Garden Party (1922). These volumes include her oft-discussed and highly regarded stories “Prelude,” “Bliss,” “Miss Brill,” “The Garden Party,” and “The Daughters of the Late Colonel.” Considered among the finest short stories in the English language, these later works display some of Mansfield's most successful innovations with avant-garde narration, including the interior monologue, stream of consciousness, and shifting perspectives. They also demonstrate Mansfield's ability to extract beauty and vitality from mundane experience, showcase the poetic qualities of her prose, and illustrate her extensive use of symbolism and imagery. In addition to highlighting Mansfield's narrative technique in these tales, critics have focused on her representations of the intricate balances within family dynamics; her depictions of love relationships from both female and male points of view; and her portrayals of children, which are considered especially insightful.

Critical Reception

Mansfield is one of the few authors to attain prominence exclusively for short stories, and her works remain among the most widely read in world literature. Early assessments of Mansfield were based largely on the romanticized image presented by Murry in extensively edited volumes of her private papers, as well as in reminiscences and critical commentary that he published after her death. This idealized representation of Mansfield, termed the “cult of Katherine,” is undergoing revision by modern biographers aided by new editions of her letters and journals. Recent critical studies of Mansfield's short fiction have provided feminist, socio-historical, and psychological interpretations. Critics have also explored stylistic aspects—such as her experimental literary techniques and poetic lyricism—and have investigated a myriad of influences on her life and work. Underlying themes of sexuality and homoeroticism have become another fertile topic of critical discussion. The success of Mansfield's writing established her as a major talent comparable to such contemporaries as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. A pioneer of the avant-garde in short fiction, Mansfield is credited with revolutionizing the short story form and creating a model for the modern short story in English.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

In a German Pension 1911

Prelude 1918

Bliss, and Other Stories 1920

The Garden Party, and Other Stories 1922

The Doves' Nest, and Other Stories 1923

The Little Girl, and Other Stories 1924; also published as Something Childish, and Other Stories, 1924

The Aloe 1930

The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield 1937

Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield 1945

Undiscovered Country: The New Zealand Stories of Katherine Mansfield 1974

Selected Stories 2002

Poems (poetry) 1923

The Journal of Katherine Mansfield (journal) 1927

The Letters of Katherine Mansfield. 2 vols. (letters) 1928

Novels and Novelists (criticism) 1930

The Scrapbook of Katherine Mansfield (journal) 1939

Katherine Mansfield's Letters to John Middleton Murry, 1913-1922 (letters) 1951

The Urewera Notebook (journal) 1978

The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. 4 vols. (letters) 1984-96

The Critical Writings of Katherine Mansfield (criticism) 1987

Poems of Katherine Mansfield (poetry) 1988

Letters between Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry (letters) 1991

The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks (journals) 2002

David Trotter (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Trotter, David. “Analysing Literary Prose: The Relevance of Relevance Theory.” Lingua 87 (1992): 11-27.

[In the following essay, Trotter discusses Relevance Theory, a version of pragmatics, as applied to Mansfield's “A Cup of Tea” and James Joyce's Ulysses.]


From Aristotle to Roland Barthes and beyond, literary criticism has been based on a code model of communication. It has been preoccupied with the encoding and decoding of messages: sometimes in the name of hermeneutics, sometimes in the name of semiology, sometimes in the name of radical scepticism. Although the problem of inference—of what readers do with the output of decoding—confronts it at every turn, it lacks an inferential model of communication, and has therefore been reduced, more often than not, to piety or sociology. During the 1970s, a surge of interest in literary language led critics to Chomsky and Saussure, but not to Grice (Grice 1975). To this day, literary theory has barely acknowledged the existence of pragmatics (though see the suggestive critique of Saussure in Fabb 1988). If Grice got it right, the theorists are in for a rude awakening.

Literary theorists have hardly paid any attention at all to Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986). This seems to me a mistake. Relevance Theory is not only the most elegant version of pragmatics currently available, but the most uncompromising in its view that inference cannot be assimilated to a code model of communication. It asks questions which literary criticism has never been able to ask, let alone answer. Literature, in turn, presents an intriguing special case of the Relevance Theory axiom that communication is most effective when the costs of processing an utterance are minimized and its contextual effects maximized. Writers frequently raise the costs of processing their ‘utterances’, and promise in exchange a yet richer contextual effect. They do not so much abandon as complicate the principle of relevance. They offer different kinds of relevance. They prompt us to wonder what relevance is.

If the linguistic structure of an utterance ‘grossly underdetermines its interpretation’ (Wilson and Sperber 1988: 141), then literature might be defined as a form of communication more grossly underdetermined than most by linguistic structure: the grosser the better. Literature tests to the limit not our powers of encoding and decoding, but our powers of inference. To examine the relation between linguistic form and pragmatic interpretation in a literary text is to ask what makes literature special—and to test a theory which claims to explain that relation.


I have chosen to discuss two early twentieth-century writers, Katherine Mansfield and James Joyce, because, like their ‘Modernist’ contemporaries, they deliberately raised the stakes. At a time when writers were encouraged to make things easy for the reader, they made things difficult. They could do so because changes in the publishing and marketing of fiction had established a greater diversity of readerships. ‘While the new, unusual or experimental writer could not expect to establish himself any more easily under the new system than under the old’, Peter Keating concludes, ‘he would at least be able to make direct contact with the portion of the reading-public sympathetic to his work’ (1989: 405).

Some writers could even be said to have recruited a readership by the severity of the demands they made on it. George Meredith's novels might be too difficult for the ‘popular reader’, Arabella Shore wrote in 1879, but ‘the indirect expressions embody so much wit, or sense or fancy, that we love the work the more for the trouble it has given us’ (quoted in Keating 1989: 384). The literary agent J. B. Pinker managed to persuade Henry James that there were firms which would pay for the privilege of publishing a writer of the ‘better’—that is, the more difficult—sort. ‘If the pressure to achieve best-seller status was made more acute by the evolution of a truly mass audience’, Michael Anesko observes, ‘the same conditions eventually fostered the recognition that smaller, more discriminating publics existed in tandem with it and might be capable of supporting writers of distinction. Even if James's books didn't sell, his name added an indisputable aura of quality to a publisher's list’ (1985: 143).

What kind of trouble did such writers put their readers to? In processing an utterance, we first decode its linguistic structure (identify syntactic functions, etc.) and then combine the output of that decoding with an appropriate context in such a way as to produce an effect which could not have been produced by either operation alone. The context may include information which can be picked up from the physical environment, information stored in the hearer's short-term memory-store, and information stored in the mental encyclopaedia. ‘The idea is that there is a small immediately accessible context consisting of the most recently processed propositions, which forms the basis for the interpretation process, and this minimal context is then expanded by reference to earlier discourse, to encyclopaedic knowledge, or to sense perception. Each of these extensions of the context will, by hypothesis, be motivated by the desire to optimize the relevance of what has been said’ (Smith 1989: 75).

Writers have ways of making things more difficult. For example, a periodic sentence structure, which withholds the main constituent and requires that subordinate or dependent constituents be held in the mind until its belated appearance, places a considerable burden on the reader's short-term syntactic memory, and thus ‘achieves its effects at great cost’ (Leech and Short 1981: 225-228). Periodic sentence structure has always been a mainstay of the British prose tradition. One need look no further than the complexity of James's syntax for proof that Modernist writers did not hesitate to test their readers in this way.

Information picked up from the physical environment does not usually come into play in the interpretation of literature. Other contexts do, and the writer can to some extent determine their accessibility. A reader's interpretation of a passage in a novel will depend on his or her memory of what has been happening in the previous ten pages, or the previous hundred. Most writers exploit the former, a few insist on the latter. Joyce made extraordinary demands in this respect. In Ulysses, when Bloom takes leave of Molly at the beginning of the day, we do not witness what they say to each other. The details of this crucial conversation emerge bit by bit during the course of the novel, some being withheld until Molly's nocturnal monologue in ‘Penelope’, the concluding episode. It is up to us to cross-reference these bulletins, which no reader could possibly keep in mind, using the book as an information retrieval system.

Joyce's appeals to encyclopaedic memory are no less exacting. When Bloom begins to think about the phenomenon of parallax, in ‘Lestrygonians’, we must access, as Bloom himself does, the information stored in encyclopaedic memory at the conceptual address for ‘parallax’. We may well draw a blank; in which case, as faithful readers, we should consult a dictionary or an encyclopaedia, or a critical study in which the issue is explored (Kenner 1980: 73-75). Ulysses is of course a more punishing novel than most. But the interpretation of Modernist fiction (and poetry) quite often requires the retrieval of information from some pretty inaccessible contexts.

Modernist writers disturb or neutralise linguistic form in such a way that we are forced to access these relatively inaccessible contexts. Normally, the syntactic and phonological organization of an utterance affects the way it is processed and understood. Its ‘focus’—the surface constituent which receives the main stress—helps us to assess what it is about (Sperber and Wilson 1986: 202-217; Blakemore 1987: 97-104). Such information status is determined, not by the structure of the discourse, but by the speaker. Even so, there are, if not rules, then at least regularities. It is a courtesy to the listener to introduce old (given) information before the new information which represents the ‘focus’—the point—of the utterance (Greenbaum and Quirk 1990: 397-398). In Relevance Theory terms, ‘an optimally relevant utterance will have its effort-saving background implications made available by initial constituents, and its effect-carrying foreground implications made available by its final constituents’ (Sperber and Wilson 1987: 706). This allows the listener to construct a context as he or she processes the utterance, interpreting the new information in the context provided by the old. Modernist writers sometimes disguise or displace the focus of a sentence, thus forcibly extending the range of inferences necessary to understand what they are talking about.


The heroine of Katherine Mansfield's ‘A Cup of Tea’, Rosemary Fell, a thoroughly ‘modern’ young woman, visits an antique shop in Curzon Street, Mayfair. She likes the shop, and the shopman, because they repay her patronage with an unobtrusive but comforting deference. On this occasion, she is shown a little enamel box with a glaze so fine ‘it looked as though it had been baked in cream’. Hearing that it costs twenty-eight guineas, she decides not to purchase it at once, but asks the shopman to keep it for her.

But the shopman had already bowed as though keeping it for her was all any human being could ask. He would be willing, of course, to keep it for her for ever.

The discreet door shut with a click. She was outside on the step, gazing at the winter afternoon.

Leech and Short (1981: 126-131) quote this passage and then offer a stylistic analysis of what seems to them its most striking sentence: ‘The discreet door shut with a click’. They consider the sentences Mansfield might have written (e.g. ‘The door discreetly shut with a click’), and conclude that the sentence she chose creates its effect above all by transferring the shopman's chief attribute to the door he may or may not shut with a click. ‘The author makes it seem as if in this euphemistic world, tradesmen, dealers—men of the flesh—have refined themselves out of existence, and have imparted their qualities to the shop itself, its furniture and fittings, in a general ambience of discretion’ (p. 129).

The sentence is striking, of course, and for the reason Leech and Short suggest. But why exactly does it compel attention? I shall argue that it ‘leaps out’ of the surrounding passage because it constitutes a threshold, a disturbance of the stylistic norm established by the story's opening. Up until this moment, the story had developed a gossipy conversational style which clearly mimics the idiom and intonation of Rosemary's ‘set’, and moves fluently into and out of her consciousness. The remark about the door disturbs that style. It places Rosemary and her world with an accuracy, and a quiet irony, of which she herself would not have been capable. Its teasing metaphor (in what sense are doors discreet?) creates a complication. For the first time, we are asked to understand something about the heroine which she herself does not understand: for which she does not have the words. Is it possible to identify anything in the semantic or syntactic structure of the sentence which might have produced this change of emphasis?

‘The discreet door shut with a click’ (1) is a near-miss for ‘The door shut with a discreet click’ (2). (2) conveys very roughly the same meaning as (1), but it has a significantly different effect. It seems more natural. We can more readily associate discretion with clicks than with doors. (2), in short, could not be mistaken for a threshold. To grasp why (2) seems natural is to grasp why (1) compels extra attention. Let us imagine what happens as the reader processes the temporal sequencing of (2). On reaching ‘The door’, we access a range of possible referents. The range is immediately and unambiguously restricted by the definite article, which tells us that the identity of the door in question has already been established. We know that Rosemary Fell spends much of her time entering and leaving shops, and assume that she is in the habit of doing so by the door rather than the window. We know that she has just concluded a transaction, and can deduce that she will now leave the shop she is in. We have no trouble in identifying the door in question, since it is a part of our knowledge of the fictional world Mansfield has created. Indeed, it is so much a part of our knowledge that it can be of no interest in itself. It is not relevant in its own right. It contributes to the relevance of the sentence by allowing us access to a context (the behaviour of doors) which may turn out to be relevant. It raises a question in the reader's mind—‘What did the door do?’—the answer to which might well prove relevant. For example, if it turned out that the door had fallen off its hinges, we might begin to worry about the heroine's safety. ‘The door’ carries what Sperber and Wilson call a background implication, because its function is to reduce processing costs and to access a context which may carry effects.

As it happens, the door doesn't fall off its hinges. ‘The door shut …’. This, too, is a background implication. Our knowledge of doors tells us that they customarily open and shut, and it comes as no surprise to find this particular example in the process of doing so. Again, though, the background implication raises a relevant question: ‘In what manner did the door shut?’ There are several ways in which a door can shut, and the way it does so can tell us quite a lot about it, or about the state of mind of people passing through it. This door shuts ‘with a discreet click’. We have arrived at the focus of the sentence: a foreground implication which is relevant in its own right, and which maximizes the contextual effect. Our impression that the shop in Curzon Street is a discreet place frequented by discreet people has been significantly reinforced.

So much for what Mansfield might have written. What she did write produces a comparable, but considerably more powerful, effect. ‘The discreet door shut with a click’. The focus of the sentence is still its final constituent: the new information it has to give us concerns the manner in which the door shut. But it is harder to process. The initial constituent—‘The discreet door’—must be classed as a background implication. It raises a relevant question, provides access to a context. When we get to the end of the sentence, we already know that this is the kind of door which is likely to shut with a click rather than a bang. And yet that context is relatively large, relatively inaccessible. We have to rummage around in our encyclopaedic entry for ‘door’ until we discover ways in which a door might be considered discreet. The solution assumed by Leech and Short is that this door is discreet because it is operated by discreet people. But we should surely also consider the possibility that the door is discreet with reference to the street it opens onto: it is unobtrusive, perhaps, recessed, painted an unassuming colour. This interpretation doesn't contradict the one proposed by Leech and Short. But the multiplying of possible interpretations does increase, fractionally, the cost of processing the initial constituent. If the sentence was optimally relevant, we should be able to make up our minds immediately as to the door's discretion, before passing on to the verb phrase ‘shut with a click’. To the extent that we have to work at it, the implication does not fulfil its normal function.

There is another factor which needs to be taken into account. As we watch Rosemary hesitate over her little enamel box, we may possibly be reminded, in a vague sort of way, of the scene in The Golden Bowl (1904) where the Prince and Charlotte Stant visit a Bloomsbury antique shop (James 1966: 98-110). There, too, hovers an obliging shopman who is prepared to keep things for the right people, and who lovingly fingers the ‘discreet cluster’ of objects spread out...

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Gillian Boddy (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Boddy, Gillian. “From Notebook Draft to Published Story: ‘Late Spring’/‘This Flower.’” In Critical Essays on Katherine Mansfield, edited by Rhoda B. Nathan, pp. 101-12. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1993.

[In the following essay, Boddy traces the differences between “Late Spring” and the posthumously published story “This Flower.”]

When Virginia Woolf reviewed the first edition of The Journal of Katherine Mansfield in the New York Herald Tribune she wrote:

It is not the quality of her writing or the degree of her fame that interest us in her diary, but the spectacle of a mind. … We feel...

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Gardner McFall (essay date 1993)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: McFall, Gardner. “Poetry and Performance in Katherine Mansfield's ‘Bliss.’” In Critical Essays on Katherine Mansfield, edited by Rhoda B. Nathan, pp. 140-50. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1993.

[In the following essay, McFall contends that Mansfield's “concision, mobilization of imagery and rhythm, irony, ambiguity, and submerged lyric voice” necessitate that readers afford “Bliss” the attention usually reserved for poems.]

Oh, to be a writer, a real writer given up to it and to it alone! … There are moments when Dickens is possessed by this power of writing: he is carried away. That is bliss.


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Armine Kotin Mortimer (essay date January 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Mortimer, Armine Kotin. “Fortifications of Desire: Reading the Second Story in Katherine Mansfield's ‘Bliss.’” Narrative 2, no. 1 (January 1994): 41-52.

[In the following essay, Mortimer provides a reading of the “second story” found near the end of “Bliss.”]

When the heroine of Mansfield's well-known, extraordinary short story discovers her husband's infidelity less than a page before the end, a second story untold in the first but necessary to its meaning erupts into the narrative, to devastating effect. The devious second story construction leads, and often misleads, the reader, who interprets clues and applies general cultural...

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David A. Lee (essay date 1995)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Lee, David A. “Language and Perspective in Katherine Mansfield's ‘Prelude.’” In Twentieth-Century Fiction: From Text to Context, edited by Peter Verdonk and Jean Jacques Weber, pp. 113-25. London: Routledge, 1995.

[In the following essay, Lee explores “the role of language in the mediation of perspective in both the literal and metaphorical sense” as exemplified in Mansfield's story “Prelude.”]

The notion of ‘point of view’ or ‘perspective’ is one of the most frequently invoked concepts in stylistic analysis (Booth 1961). A distinction is often drawn between the point of view of the narrator and that of a character, for example, or...

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Susan Lohafer (essay date fall 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Lohafer, Susan. “Why the ‘Life of Ma Parker’ Is Not So Simple: Preclosure in Issue-bound Stories.” Studies in Short Fiction 33, no. 4 (fall 1996): 475-86.

[In the following essay, Lohafer recommends a “storiographical” approach to “Life of Ma Parker,” contending that a close analysis of this type reveals otherwise unappreciated complexity in the story.]

She's a widowed charwoman. Yesterday, her loving little grandson, the light of her dreary life, was buried. As servant, wife, and mother, she's the generic British working-class female at the turn of the century—cowed by drudgery and burdened by loss. Her husband, a baker, died of “white...

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Robert L. Caserio (essay date winter-spring 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Caserio, Robert L. “The Mansfield Moment.” Western Humanities Review 50, no. 4 (winter-spring 1997): 344-47.

[In the following essay, Caserio outlines the defining characteristics of Mansfield's short fiction and discusses her status among English modernist authors.]

Has the celebrated Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) lost a once formidable status among English modernists? In the past, her work was thought of as equal to Lawrence's and Woolf's (she was intimate with them in her brief life); and her writing sounds now like Lawrence's (as in “The Garden-Party” [1922] and “The Doll's House” [1922]), and now like Woolf's (as in “Prelude” [1918] and...

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Pamela Dunbar (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Dunbar, Pamela. Preface to Radical Mansfield: Double Discourse in Katherine Mansfield's Short Stories, pp. ix-xv. Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1997.

[In the following excerpt, Dunbar considers various influences on Mansfield's short fiction and discusses her contribution to the modernist short story.]

In January 1921, just two years before she died, Katherine Mansfield wrote to a painter-friend: ‘I try and make family life so gorgeous—not hatred and linoleum—but warmth and hydrangeas.’1

Yet beneath the ‘hydrangeas’—the material prosperity, the emotional fulfilment, the sense of contentment...

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Janet Winston (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Winston, Janet. “Reading Influences: Homoeroticism and Mentoring in Katherine Mansfield's ‘Carnation’ and Virginia Woolf's ‘Moments of Being: “Slater's Pins Have No Points.”’” In Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer, pp. 57-77. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Winston explores the connection between Mansfield's “Carnation” and Virginia Woolf's “Moments of Being: ‘Slater's Pins Have No Points.’”]

On January 9, 1923, Katherine Mansfield died of tuberculosis, from which she had suffered for much of her young life. Yet, Mansfield continued to live on acutely in...

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Thomas Dilworth (essay date spring 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Dilworth, Thomas. “Monkey Business: Darwin, Displacement, and Literary Form in Katherine Mansfield's ‘Bliss.’” Studies in Short Fiction 35, no. 2 (spring 1998): 141-52.

[In the following essay, Dilworth views evolution as a central theme in “Bliss” and deems the story as “a wonderful aesthetic achievement.”]

For such a popular and much-anthologized work, Katherine Mansfield's “Bliss” has generated sparse criticism. The aspect of the story that chiefly makes it so popular has also diminished its critical reputation: its element of contrast and surprise. With climactic simplicity, the narrative contrasts the erotic happiness of the protagonist...

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Christine Darrohn (essay date fall 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Darrohn, Christine. “‘Blown to Bits!’: Katherine Mansfield's ‘The Garden-Party’ and the Great War.” Modern Fiction Studies 44, no. 3 (fall 1998): 513-39.

[In the following essay, Darrohn contends that “The Garden Party” explores issues of class and gender as well as the devastating impact of World War I on Mansfield's generation.]

“Blown to bits!”

That is how Katherine Mansfield, still in shock just a few days after learning of her brother's death in the war, described him to a friend. Twenty-one-year-old Leslie “Chummie” Beauchamp had been stationed in France for less than a month when on 7 October 1915, as he was...

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Chantal Cornut-Gentille D'Arcy (essay date summer 1999)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: D'Arcy, Chantal Cornut-Gentille. “Katherine Mansfield's ‘Bliss’: ‘The Rare Fiddle’ as Emblem of the Political and Sexual Alienation of Woman.” Papers on Language & Literature 35, no. 3 (summer 1999): 244-69.

[In the following essay, D'Arcy examines the political commentary and sexual politics found in “Bliss.”]

In the final part of To the Lighthouse, Lily Briscoe, the amateur artist, is contemplating her painting and pondering on the elusive nature of mass and form:

Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a...

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Colin Norman (essay date 1999)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Norman, Colin. “Prufrock, Freud, and the Late Colonel's Daughters: New Light on the Genesis of a Mansfield Story.” English Studies in Canada 25 (1999): 19-37.

[In the following essay, Norman identifies T. S. Eliot's poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” as an influence on Mansfield's“The Daughters of the Late Colonel.”]

Less than five months before her death in 1923, Katherine Mansfield wrote to Violet Schiff that Eliot's “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is “by far by far and away the most interesting and the best modern poem” (Murry, Letters [The Letters of Katherine Mansfield] 2: 240). “Prufrock” had impressed...

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Horst Breuer (essay date November 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Breuer, Horst. “K. Mansfield's ‘The Stranger’: Text, Subtext, Pretext.” English Studies 83, no. 5 (November 2002): 423-30.

[In the following essay, Breuer offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of “The Stranger” and investigates the literary source of the story's title.]

Katherine Mansfield's short story ‘The Stranger’ (written 1920, published 1921) is one of her finest narratives. It holds a delicate balance between psychological realism and social satire. It analyzes with consummate empathy and linguistic skill a significant marital configuration of early 20th century middle-class society. The protagonist and narrative focus is a husband of...

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Jane Stafford and Mark Williams (essay date 2002)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Stafford, Jane, and Mark Williams. “Fashioned Intimacies: Maoriland and Colonial Modernity.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 37, no. 1 (2002): 31-48.

[In the following essay, Stafford and Williams elucidate Mansfield's attitude toward her homeland of New Zealand and consider her place in the movement of literary nationalism known as Maoriland.]

In Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) Stephen Dedalus's friend, Davin, is tempted sexually by a peasant woman.1 He declines her offer, but is attracted by the strangeness of the encounter and the frankness of the invitation. Although an ardent nationalist and affectionately...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Dunbar, Pamela. Radical Mansfield: Double Discourse in Katherine Mansfield's Short Stories. Basingstoke, Hampshire, England: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1997, 198 p.

Critical study of Mansfield's stories, with particular focus on lesser-known pieces. Includes the previously unpublished story “His Sisters' Keeper.”

Nathan, Cherney B., and Rhoda B. Nathan, eds. Critical Essays on Katherine Mansfield. New York: G. K. Hall & Co., 1993, 236 p.

Collection of essays by New Zealand scholars, focusing on various aspects of Mansfield's career.

Robinson, Roger, ed. Katherine Mansfield: In...

(The entire section is 249 words.)