Prelude; and At the Bay

by Katherine Mansfield

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What are some characteristics of Linda Burnell in "Prelude"?

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Linda is remote, abstracted, and a bit aloof. Although she is Stanley's wife and technically the mistress of the house, it is her mother and sister that perform most of the day to day duties of making the house livable and caring for the children. Linda gives way to day dreams; she has a sense that the things around her "come alive"—"Not only large substantial things like furniture but curtains and the patterns of stuffs and the fringes of quilts and cushions"—that these things watched her:

THEY knew how frightened she was; THEY saw how she turned her head away as she passed the mirror....she knew that if she gave herself up and was quiet, more than quiet, silent, motionless, something would really happen.

This imaginative connection to the things around her exhausts her; the thing that "might happen" of course could refer to the birth of a new baby, but there also is a sense in which her imagination animates or "gives birth" to the household itself and the things in it; it is as if by having imagined her life, her children, and the objects around her she has no more time or obligation to manage them.

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Linda Burnell might best be described as "other-worldly".  She keeps herself apart from her family, preferring to remain alone in her room or in the garden while her mother and sisters are involved in household tasks.  She remains on the periphery, avoiding interaction with the family when they are relaxing in the drawing room and absenting herself at the dinner table.  Linda has a romantic aura about her; she dresses differently from the others, and most often appears wrapped in a shawl or blanket.

Despite her apparent isolation, Linda has an inner peace and an intuitive understanding of matters of life and death.  While the others are anxious and frightened by many things, Linda has an inherent affinity with the world around her, and although her interaction with people around her is minimal, she loves deeply, and has a special fondness for Mrs. Fairchild.  Linda is like an anchor; when Stanley panics in the darkness, it is the  sound of her voice which reassures him that everything is all right.

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