Bliss & The Garden Party – Katherine Mansfield

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Chosen by Rachel

Bliss tells the story of a dinner party where secrets abound. The Garden Party captures the story of an upper-middle class NZ family preparing for a garden party.

✔ ” Considered Mansfield’s finest piece of short fiction, The Garden Party is said to have influenced such modernist authors as Virginia Woolf with its stream-of-consciousness and symbolic narrative style. The Garden Party incorporates many of Mansfield’s defining themes: New Zealand, childhood, adulthood, social class, class conflict and  innocence.

“Structured around an early afternoon garden party in New Zealand the story has clear connections to Mansfield’s own childhood in New Zealand. The main character, Laura, is an idealistic girl who wishes to cancel the planned gathering when she learns of the death of a working-class labourer who lives down the hill from her parents’ home. The story concerns Laura’s alternating moments of resistance and conformity to her mother’s idea of class relations.

“Another of her most revered short stories is Bliss, which tells the story of Bertha, an extraordinarily happy woman who spends the opening pages summing up the terrific things in her life, her home, her husband, her baby and her friends.

“As she contemplates her good fortune she prepares a meal for dinner guests who are friends of the couple, glancing out the window at a stunning pear tree which she considers represents herself and her wonderful life.

“The friends arrive and the dinner proceeds but the conclusion of the evening is not the outcome Bertha was expecting.

“At the time of its publication in 1920 the story was considered controversial, dealing with infidelities, sexuality and superficial characters.

What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful.

✔ “These two short stories were our favourites of all the Katherine Mansfield we read this month. Not only astounding that so much can be said in such a short space, but that important social and moral commentaries are woven amongst the decadent narrative. Stunning imagery, too – We all see to recall these stories vividly.”


Published 1918
The English Review

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