Tuesday, 12 February 2013

On Life of Ma Parker
·         How far does Katherine Mansfield get ‘inside’ her working class character?  Does she feel like a person? 

·         Why does Katherine Mansfield introduce the ‘literary gentleman’, who has nothing to do with Ma Parker’s grief?

·         Does the respelling of certain words to make them ‘working class’  create realism or is it patronising?

·         Why is the ‘hard life’ theme repeated so much?  Is this over done?

·         ‘But the struggle she’d had to bring up those six little children and keep herself to herself’  What does that last clause mean?

·         Why is the sick child ‘offended’?  

·         How convincing is it that Ma Parker can find nowhere to cry? 

·         Is this need to cry all on her own some kind of symptom of her life?   Is it just loneliness?   Is it something to do
                 with English culture?

·         Compare Ma Parker’s need to have a ‘planned cry’ to the boss in The Fly.

·         Is Ma Parker represented simply as a victim of fate (compare  Reginald’s comment in Mr and Mrs Dove)?

·         Are we to think of Ma Parker as typical of her class?

On Mr and Mrs Dove
·         Reginald’s lack of self-confidence is based on:   Reality (He’s just a loser)?   His low self esteem?   Class?   His mother?

·         Reginald speculates that Anne doesn’t really know why she laughs at him?   Is there a Freudian explanation?

·         Mrs Dove leads Mr Dove, but Anne’s upbringing makes her think the husband should lead.  Is that assumption 
               questioned in the  story?

·         Is this a story about gender?

·         Anne is fond of her doves?   Does she like the ‘marriage’ arrangement her doves have?   Or like to laugh at it?

·         Mr Dove follows Mrs Dove bowing and so on.   Anne tells Reginald that that’s all they do?   Has she forgotten something?     
                    Is she denying something?  

·         Why does Katherine Mansfield choose doves?   Doves are traditional symbols of love and peace.  
                    The dove comes back to Noah with a message of hope, that there is land somewhere out there.

·         Anne finds Reginald a good ‘friend’, but that’s not enough.  She goes to her reading  in which, we assume, ‘love’ is a romantic             
         notion with a masterly Adonis-like lover with  wicked bedroom eyes.

·         How can Reginald expect Anne to up sticks and go to Rhodesia with him the very next day?

·         Katherine Mansfield represents Rhodesia as a kind of ‘saving’ of Reginald but also a place of loneliness . 
                 He says he can stand the   loneliness but there’s something he can’t cope with.  Which is?

·         Do you think Anne is first just ‘silly’, and second selfish in wanting to make Reginald somehow remove her guilt?

·         What happens in the end?   Is Reggie redeemed or doomed?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Not being able to see or articulate or be understood -  A T S Eliot connection             

It's interesting how often we've come across characters in Katherine Mansfield's stories who can't quite put their fingers on the significance of something,  or it slips out of their memory, or they can't get others to quite understand, or they themselves don't (don't want to) understand.   This comes in most clearly at the end of The Garden Party where Laura is struggling to see the 'real' significance of her epiphany when she sees the working class man's dead body.   It's there just out of sight in Miss Brill's transference of her jolting experience onto the crying fur in the box.   It's there e of Je ne Parle pas Francais where the arrogant young writer is haunted, for reasons he can't quite grasp, by the memory of Mouse.   It's in the strange structure of An Indiscreet Journey where the significance first of her dangerous journey is left as a blank, as also is the meaning of the drink of Mirabelle in the 'forbidden' cafe.  It comes up obliquely in Bliss where Bertha doesn't understand and isn't understood and falsely 'understands', and clearly again in The Daughters of the Late Colonel where the daughters are almost about to articulate what's next, and where it's all be leading to  when the get entwined in each other and 'forget' what they understand.  You'll see an almost identical 'replay' of this forgetting trope in The Fly.   We should perhaps keep a look out for other examples.   It's also worth relating this lack of definition of a 'point' to KM's stories generally, stories which tend to raise a question to which several 'answers' are left hovering after the story has ended.   

Katherine Mansfield may have been influenced by T S Eliot, whom she knew, but who was not that much of a fan of hers and took some trouble later on to try and rubbish her reputation which he thought had been wrongly inflated by critics.  T S Eliot was an extremely influential poet and representative of modernism in literature.   In an early poem called The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, Eliot dealt with this character's sense of unfulfilment.  Midway through the poem he writes:

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,        90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—        95
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
  Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
  That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,        100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:        105
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
  “That is not it at all,
  That is not what I meant, at all.”

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Here are a few generalisations, questions, speculations  See if 
you can pin them to details in the texts to test them.


What is their financial situation is?   Are they secure?  Will they now be poor?   Has the Colonel left a will?  Does Mansfield mention financial matters?  If not why not?    Or, when they talk about sacking the maid and doing for themselves, is that really because they can’t afford her?   Is that why they worry about the nurse’s greed over butter?

What evidence is there that the colonel bullied the girls?   How much did they see of him?   Did they love him?

The  colonel in effect blighted their lives.  When his wife died young he kept them away from suitors so that they would stay at home and look after him.  Is this the ‘moral’ of the story?

They seem very babyish in their fear of touching the colonel’s things, let alone sorting them out?  Is this superstition?  How far is Mansfield credible here?

Why is Ceylon important?

Josephine seems older and more decisive than Constantia, but in fact this is only a matter of conversational tone.  Neither can get anything done.   This is because they have spent their lives being told what to do and can’t think for themselves.

What happens in the story?   What is it that they have forgotten they were going to say.

The Garden Party ends with a person not being able to say, or perhaps find, what they mean.   Here we have a similar ‘losing the point’.  How do these story compare to An Indiscreet Journey, and Miss Brill, Je ne Parle pas Fran├žais?   Something avoided?



Is this story really about her husband not getting enough rumpy-pumpy?   Or it’s a Freudian scenario.  She’s afraid of sex, but still needs it, so she becomes hysterical and falls in love with a fantasy of her new woman friend,  and has religious feelings for a pear tree?

Mansfield is always interested in deception, and self-deception in particular.   A long theme in the Western intellectual tradition (Socrates:  know yourself).     But what is Bertha deceiving herself about?

Is Henry really a very cunning deceiver, and has he been for some time now?   Or is Pearl something new?
What are we to make of Bertha’s relationship to her child?    And Henry’s?

Henry seems to be fond of Egyptian dancers with green eyelids.  What do we read into that?

She says she likes her friends and being ‘modern’.   Her friends, in fact, are a lot of pseuds.

“The lights will be out.  And you and he will be alone together in the dark room –the warm bed. . .’
 She jumped up from her chair and ran over to the piano”
          It sounds as they they’ve never been alone together in bed.  That can’t be so.   What’s  she thinking?  Note Mansfield gives us only a little of her thought and then leaves it up to use to imagine.

Just before she laments her coldness,  Bertha says that Henry’s ‘different’.  What does that mean?   Is she a tart?

How does Mansfield create the aura around Pearl Fulton?   Is it a matter of exact descriptive imagery?

“’Good night, good-bye’ she cried from the top stop, feeling that this self of hers was taking leave of them for ever.”   Which self?