It took me so long to finish this collection of short stories! I started it last year. Each story was so richly detailed and full of the character’s inner selves simmering between the lines that when I finished one I felt as if I had read a whole book.
This is one of those books that I never would have finished if I hadn’t been keeping a blog. Which is one of the reasons I am so glad I started Ode to a Library!
The earlier stories in this collection are alive with the angry ideals of Mansfield and her fury at the powerless of women against the pomposity of self-satisfied men and these themes crop up in the stories throughout the book. In the tiredness of Rosabel violets and wet clothes and evening meals made of dreams contrast against the harsh realities of the protagonists life and we see this again in The Swing of the Pendulum where the girl swings between wild optimism and the greyness of how things really are with a humiliating consequence.
The stories are wonderfully diverse in their settings with stories in New Zealand and Germany and France. Bathhouse, hat shops, weddings, dingy flats, a store in the middle of nowhere, the great war, a ghastly holiday; Mansfield’s stories are wonderful to read if you want sensory photographs of her time.
A Married Man’s Story was one I didn’t expect to be blown away by and yet it surprised me the most. More than the hysteria and suppressed violence of Millie and The Woman at the Store because I didn’t like the protagonist yet some of his thoughts were the most moving in the whole collection for me. For example the scene where the man as a child finds his classmates have put a dead bird in his pocket:
The smoke from our kitchen chimney poured downwards, and flakes of soot floated- soft, light in the air. Through the big crack in the cement yard a poor looking plant with dull, reddish flowers had pushed its way. I looked at the dead bird again…And that is the first time I remember singing-rather…listening to a silent voice in a little cage that was me.
That story and my feelings towards it are a perfect summary of what I feel for Katherine Mansfield. I like her writing, I admire it and think it beautiful and clever and a lovely sensory visual of the early twentieth century. But I need to love the characters to properly love the writer.