Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

To the inexperienced reader of Katherine Mansfield’s stories, it must seem that nothing of any significance ever happens. Plot, as one used to know it and still finds it in occasional fiction, has disappeared. The old plot line that could be charted—rising action, climax, falling action—has given way to a line that does not rise very much and then stops somewhere and remains hovering. In contrast to the traditional emphasis on what happens, Mansfield’s stories emphasize why it happens, which is an altogether different thing. In a story such as “Prelude,” details do more than set the scene; objects, characters, and incidents and their positions make a tangential point; nothing is apparent, everything is implied.

With an in medias res beginning, there is no formal introduction, no exposition, no particular setting of scene. Plunged immediately into a story, without time to accommodate to a new situation, readers are thrown into an imbalance that they must immediately work to set straight, and they have no bearings except those that the story provides.

Once in a Mansfield story, readers are moved through a series of incidents that are no more than incidents until relationships are discovered. Ordinarily, relationships are revealed through details that are charged with symbolic significance, image patterns that move to metaphoric levels, and symbolic actions. Details, properly chosen, provide the texture of an experience;...

(The entire section is 460 words.)