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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A mostly forgotten writer who died too young

Just a few words about Katherine Mansfield, a rarely read author today, one about whom I know very little, but did blog a few months back on her excellent story Her First Ball that I came across in anthology I've been reading from time to time and now she appears with multiple selections on Charles May's list of great 20th-century short stories. Last night read her story Bliss - can see some similarities w Her First Ball - maybe mostly similarities of class and milieu, well to do young women in early 20th-c London, self-confident and socially attractive, who embark on a social occasion that ends for them in a startling and disturbing revelation of confrontation (as I remember, in HFB a rather unpleasant dance partner blurts out to her a vision of what he sees as the predictable predetermined course of her life which will leave her as one of the elderly ladies watching the ball - this one outburst ruining not just her evening and anticipations but perhaps the course of her very being). In Bliss. we see a young wife shopping and preparing for an evening's entertainment, everything, she thinks, is so perfect in her life - her husband, her infant daughter, they hae enough money, good and interesting friends from an artistic circle - and she wants everything to be just perfect for the entertainment - arranging pyramids of fruit just so, etc. - the one dark note is that the nanny seems to dominate the infant child and won't let the mother get close to her, the mother is disturbed by this but afraid to challenge the nanny's authority - so all is not bliss - and then, at end of evening, she sees her husband in a passionate embrace with one of the guests (whom she had "recruited" to the circle and thought her husband barely knew and didn't really like - a facade, obviously). The world of this story touches on the world of Va. Woolf, hard not to think of Mrs. Dalloway preparing for her entertainment, but the style is more conventional and the scope seems pretty narrow - but the shocking bitter elements that she draws into these stories makes them powerful and memorable. Evidently, Mansfield died young - a tragedy for literature because one would think she would have continue to develop her talent and maybe expand her scope as a novelist or write some really devastating stories. Unfortunately for her memory and for us she didn't strike a sufficiently distinct mark - no landmark books or stunning collection like Dubliners - so readership has largely passed her by.

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