Katherine Mansfield

The genre of the realistic short story in the early twenties is best represented by Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923). She was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and went to England to finish her education. Her first writings were published in "The New Age" to which she became a regular contributor. Her first book "In a German Pension" was published in 1911. It was a collection of short stories that had appeared in "The New Age".
In 1912 Katherine Mansfield began collaboration with the well-known critic and editor, John Middleton Murry, who was then running a literary review called "Rhythm". Murry, whom she married in 1918, encouraged and cultivated her obvious talent, which expressed itself best in deeply psychological stories. In 1918 she wrote «Prelude", a rather long story in which her originality was first fully apparent, and which soon became famous. “Bliss and Other Stories", her second book, was not published until 1921. It was a success, and her third collection, "The Garden Party and Other Stories" appeared a year later. It was the last of her writings to be published in her lifetime.
Katherine Mansfield had suffered from tuberculosis since 1917 and died in France in January, 1923, at the age of thirty- four. Two more collections of stories were published after her death, also her “Letters" and her “Journal.”
The stories by Katherine Mansfield are not tales of violent action, nor have they complicated plots. She reveals human conduct in quite ordinary situations. The men, women and children, whom Katherine Mansfield portrays in delicate colours, do not take part in sensational events, yet they are vivid and true to life. Katherine Mansfield's style was often compared to the style of Chekhov. Like Chekhov she has an eye for the subtleties of human conduct and the dramatic effect of her stories is based on significant little details, which play an important role in the lives of her personages.
Katherine Mansfield declares that life must be taken as it is. Yet in spite of the objectivity she proclaims, the reader can easily feel her sympathies and antipathies. She is very sensitive to class distinctions, and her sympathy is always on the side of the have-nots. Besides that, any kind of egoism and pretence on the part of her bourgeois characters is treated with ironic objectivity. "A Cup of Tea" is representative in this respect.
The principal character, Rosemary Fell, is stopped in the street by a girl who asks her for the price of a cup of tea. And imagining how she would boast of her gesture "out of a novel by Dostoyevsky", Rosemary brings the poor girl home to let her have a cup of tea there. But after a remark made by her husband that the girl was pretty, Rosemary's patronizing eagerness to help her disappears as suddenly as it came. The secret unhappiness of Rosemary's own life, which produced such a jealous feeling at her husband's remark, makes her fear that the young woman might become her rival. In her stories Katherine Mansfield wishes to show the complexity of life.
She regarded Chekhov as her literary teacher. Some of her stories even repeat the plots of stories by Chekhov She translated Chekhov's diaries and letters. She once called herself "the English Chekhov" But the general tendency, widely spread in her time, of depicting only the "private world" of people makes her social horizon narrow and makes her a writer on a smaller scale than Chekhov.

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Stanley Workman said...