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

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Katherine Mansfield as a precursor to Alice Munro?

Marriage a la Mode is another one of Katherine Mansfield's largely forgotten but stunning stories; if many of her stories seem to be about young, socially adept, attractive women who experience a sudden and painful shock as they confront, for only a moment, the darkness of life - and then seem to shrug it off as if their lives can go on oblivious, which they cannot, this one is about a deeply troubled marriage. The man is a kind of dull and ordinary London businessman and the woman, his wife, has artistic pretensions - she assembles around her a coterie of aesthetes - phonies, all of them, obviously - who carouse and who sponge. She has moved out to a remote suburb; her husband comes "home" only on weekends, tries to bring candies or presents home for "the kiddies" who, as in so much British fiction, are largely ignored by everyone (except the hapless dad). We follow him on one weekend home as he's made to feel increasingly lumpish and unwanted by his wife and the spongers. On the way back to the city after the weekend, he writes her a plaintive letter, saying in simple language how much he loves her and does not want to be a burden to her happiness. When she gets the letter, she reads it aloud mockingly to her friends - a horrible woman! - and the feels a bit of remorse - why did she do that? She means to apologize, to kick these louts out of her house, but then - they call to her from the garden, and she goes out to join them. The incredibly sadness of this story is actually heightened by Mansfield's surprising narrative architecture (she is a Munro precursor in many ways), as we begin the story with the man and end it w/ the woman - it's even more painful to know that he is unaware and may never be aware of his wife's callous and cruel behavior. She's very comfortable to live off of him, but she's an ingrate - but the story ends w/ him beyond the frame.

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