A FEW MORE NOTES ON AN INDISCREET JOURNEY
It doesn’t fit easily into the conventional story structure
Equilibrium is not set up except that she has not yet left her digs in France. Only after the journey has started do we get the idea that the ‘ordinary situation’ is not being in the war area. Also the problem is already presumed. But what it is?
To reach a destination in France at M Boufard’s house. Reasons are not give as to why this is important. We gather them, imagist fashion, through hints.
This overall aim gives rise to a number of sub-problems in her achieving her aim. Some of the sub-problems are to do with her self and the journey itself. Let’s called these ‘difficulties’. Some are to do with people, the security officials whom she is hoping to outwit. Let’s call these ‘obstructers’ Related to both of these is the overall problem of the times, the context of war. Against the obstructers and difficulties, there are, as in a fairy story, ‘helpers’ who assist the narrator to get through by providing false letters, transport, accommodation, and being there to whisk her off. And there are also, again as in a fairy story, ‘bystanders’ met along the course of the journey who do little more than threaten or hint.
Being late for the ship,
not knowing the place to change
re-finding the café,
getting the Mirabel.
the officials at the quay,
the ‘God’ officials,
Café des Amis owner
The little corporal
The ‘good friend’
The serving boy
The woman with the letter (hints of war, a different kind of love)
The woman with the seagull hat (threat because ‘she knows’)
Man selling fish (?Jesus)
Soldiers in the café (companions)
The gassed soldier (warning)
However, the overall point of the journey is not expressed, but hinted at. When she gets to the ‘white room’ that seems to be the goal, a kind of ‘shrine’, a romantic place of love. But no love actually happens. The little corporal seems at first just a helper among others, but he merges into an ‘off set’ lover, as we realise through hints - the throwing up of the passport, the placing his hand over hers, his reference to Montmartre, his way of calling her ‘ma fille’.
The ‘lovers’ are alone together, but there is a film-style, modernist style ‘cut’ to avoid just the intimate reason for her coming. The intimacy is left undescribed. A similar ‘cut’ occurs when they meet in the café (after she’s had to search and be helped again), and before the others join them.
And the solitary company of the lover is replaced by the ‘family’ of his friends. And from that, norm, another ‘problem’ arises, how to get some Mirabelle. And the ‘climax’ of the story is tasting the Mirabelle which in reality tastes nothing like whisky.
Mansfield describes the means to the narrator’s goal, almost as if the means – and her is perhaps why the witnesses/bystanders are dwelt upon. Mansfield also describes the fringes of the war, but doesn’t take the war itself fully seriously, just as the café proprietor doesn’t take the wounded man seriously in the café. He’s just ‘disgusting’.
We get nothing BUT background to her assignation, and this background is treated as if unimportant to her, except as humour, or worry at being prevented. It’s the excitement of an adventure done just for the adrenalin.
The Mirabelle at the end of the story is a recapitulation of the story as a whole. It is a ‘second time’ in which obstacles, difficulties, regulations, and so on have been overcome and an illegal desire fulfilled. As the soldier says, you get the full flavour of it the ‘second time’ you sip in. Do we have, really, a narrative of the cliché about forbidden fruit? It is the forbiddenness that counts, not the fruit?
The story is ‘imagist’ in the sense that it focuses on the visual, and although point of view is indicated, there is very little tracing of thoughts and connections. We have to connect the visual story together. What is not said is what we are made to think about. Also the self is in question. In a sense she is the journey, the others around her, that very emptiness which holds it all together. She is very passive once she has taken the decision to go to Gray. Then she is an observer of the soldiers behind the lines.
Point of view
The heroine is very self-centred, and there’s a question of her self-indulgence in this adventure when the war is on. She tends to mock many of the characters who act as bystanders. The women passengers on her trains, fairy-tale like as they are, may reveal more of the narrator than she cares to face. The first has a letter from her son on the front. She might evoke sympathy from someone else. There are no sympathetic questions about how and where her son is. The second, mocked for her seagull hat, indirectly accuses her, not perhaps of breaking military rules, but ethical ones. In what in part of her mind she knows is a culture changing horror, she is bent on her own pleasure.
We don’t, of course, have to assume that the narrator is KM herself, even if the material is based on KM’s experience.