(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Influenced by Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield enjoyed a productive although short career as an essayist and short-story writer. Her first story, “The Tiredness of Rosabel,” introduces many of the themes her later works explore—class difference, role playing, poverty, deception, and the solitary female. Almost all of her stories illustrate the fluid, relational, and fragile nature of personal identity.

Her first collection of stories, In a German Pension (1911), a satirical look at Germans’ relationships to each other, their food, and their bodily functions, quickly went through three editions. Although she was later embarrassed by these stories, their success allowed her to place her later work in the better magazines of the day. Instead of the often comic nature of her first collection, her subsequent works became subtler, often abandoning traditional plot, and instead, substituting a momentary revelation. In such scenes, Mansfield manages to convey a character’s history, personality, or dilemma in a brief flash of insight. An example of Mansfield’s use of a momentary illumination is the twist at the end of “Bliss” (In Bliss and Other Stories, 1920), in which the reader and the main character, Bertha Young, find out about her husband’s affair with her friend, Pearl Fulton. In typical Mansfield style, the main character learns little or nothing from such an epiphany; Bertha’s glimpse of her...

(The entire section is 518 words.)