22 thoughts on “The Collected Stories – Katherine Mansfield

    I – IV

    “They could see the lighthouse shining on Quarantine Island,…”

    I loved the fictionoitus-interruptus sense of things already happening, characters and their interrelationships forming inchoately in my mind, the story of the moving of house near Wellington, the two girls Lottie and Kezia left in the old place to be brought later (not room enough in removal vehicle), the lady with strange speech patterns who looks after them while they wait to be picked up, someone’s boasting about having chops for dinner, one of the girls being scared by something nasty called ‘IT’, and later prayers…

    “God only excuses you saying your prayers in bed if you’ve got a temperature.”

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  3. V

    From ‘IT’ to ‘THEY’ – this passage is worth quoting as a whole, an amazing prehensility of the environment. Matchless.

    “Then she did not hear them any more. What a glare there was in the room. She hated blinds pulled up to the top at any time, but in the morning it was intolerable. She turned over to the wall and idly, with one finger, she traced a poppy on the wall-paper with a leaf and a stem and a fat bursting bud. In the quiet, and under her tracing finger, the poppy seemed to come alive. She could feel the sticky, silky petals, the stem, hairy like a gooseberry skin, the rough leaf and the tight glazed bud. Things had a habit of coming alive like that. Not only large substantial things like furniture, but curtains and the patterns of stuffs and the fringes of quilts and cushions. How often she had seen the tassel fringe of her quilt change into a funny procession of dancers with priests attending. . . . For there were some tassels that did not dance at all but walked stately, bent forward as if praying or chanting. How often the medicine bottles had turned into a row of little men with brown top-hats on; and the washstand jug had a way of sitting in the basin like a fat bird in a round nest.
    ‘I dreamed about birds last night,’ thought Linda. What was it? She had forgotten. But the strangest part of this coming alive of things was what they did. They listened, they seemed to swell out with some mysterious important content, and when they were full she felt that they smiled. But it was not for her, only, their sly secret smile; they were members of a secret society and they smiled among themselves. Sometimes, when she had fallen asleep in the daytime, she woke and could not lift a finger, could not even turn her eyes to left or right because THEY were there; sometimes when she went out of a room and left it empty, she knew as she clicked the door to that THEY were filling it. And there were times in the evenings when she was upstairs, perhaps, and everybody else was down, when she could hardly escape from them. Then she could not hurry, she could not hum a tune; if she tried to say ever so carelessly—‘Bother that old thimble’—THEY were not deceived. THEY knew how frightened she was; THEY saw how she turned her head away as she passed the mirror. What Linda always felt was that THEY wanted something of her, and she knew that if she gave herself up and was quiet, more than quiet, silent, motionless, something would really happen.”

  4. VI & VII

    “She did not believe that she would ever not get lost in this garden.”

    I may overuse the word ‘rhapsody’, but this novella is an apotheosis of rhapsody. Even rapture. Family life in past days, its social mœurs, its blessings and small mercies. A descriptive delight in flowers and Proustian memories. Including a buttonhole of Siamese twin cherries. With the counterpoint of someone singing this song:
    “Nature has gone to her rest, love,
    See, we are alone.
    Give me your hand to press, love,
    Lightly within my own.”

  5. Pingback: Give me your hand to press… | THE DES LEWIS GESTALT REAL-TIME REVIEWS

  6. VIII – XII

    “You have to have a flat place for standing on your head.”

    The in-media-res fictionoitus flow of events continues till the end of PRELUDE, a quilt of existence, children playing with Snooker the dog, the girls and some boys playing, later a duck beheaded that then waddles still alive till finally dying, the resultant duck for eating is so wonderful it is as if the duck was nurtured to the sweet strains of a German flute, the Dream Book with superstitions or directives based on the flow of direction by beetles and spiders, the idyllic shades of plants and food…
    …the thoughts of one’s separate Proustian selves, in a mirror or as a self-image, in the light (or darkness) of being self-isolated. By means of this story’s metaphor of moving from the town to the middle of nowhere.
    And, of course, there is the social distancing represented by cribbage pegs…

    “The cribbage pegs were like two little people going up the road together, turning round the sharp corner, and coming down the road again. They were pursuing each other. They did not so much want to get ahead as to keep near enough to talk—to keep near, perhaps that was all.
    But no, there was always one who was impatient and hopped away as the other came up, and would not listen. Perhaps the white peg was frightened of the red one, or perhaps he was cruel and would not give the red one a chance to speak. . . .”

    “She hugged her folded arms and began to laugh silently. How absurd life was—it was laughable, simply laughable. And why this mania of hers to keep alive at all? For it really was a mania, she thought, mocking and laughing.”



    “I do not know why I have such a fancy for this little café. It’s dirty and sad, sad. […] It was very quiet in the café.”

    Where has this novelette of genius been all my life!? It is the perfect Proustian gem, where the Petite Madeline lost-time effect is the novelette’s title as a sentence written in green ink in his writing-pad while in this genius loci of a French café. This being the French author of ‘False Coins’, ‘Wrong Doors’ and ‘Left Umbrellas.’
    A deliciously effete vision of almost strobingly androgynous Englishman with whom this writer communes, after, as a child, having been arguably and regularly abused or just passionately kissed by an African laundress in an outhouse … and when the Englishman brings a woman back with him to France, I feel the writer falls in a unique type of love with this woman called Mouse…
    To match the Proustian memory trigger there is also much drinking of tea at the end. Much ambiguous love, with a perfect panoply of words, words that link together in an unrequited dream of something you half experience in a rhapsody stemming, with many ‘dying falls’, from rarifications of pent-up idiosyncrasy and love. There is no way I can give it due justice here. The only way for you is to steep yourself in this text, pungent with early twentieth century France.
    It looks the part and IS the part. Gestalt Real-Time Reviewing finally crystallised as what it should always have been. The submerged world apotheosised.

    “For Mouse was beautiful. She was exquisite, but so fragile and fine that each time I looked at her it was as if for the first time. She came upon you with the same kind of shock that you feel when you have been drinking tea out of a thin innocent cup and suddenly, at the bottom, you see a tiny creature, half butterfly, half woman, bowing to you with her hands in her sleeves.”

  8. BLISS

    “It begins with an incredibly beautiful line:“

    If a story itself can be bliss, this is it. Seriously.
    Even with its premonitory ‘dying fall’ pre-echoed only just a half an hour ago when I happened to read and quote this (“When you feel safe, like something is predictable and can’t ever go wrong, it goes wrong.”) in a disarmingly different but somehow mutually synergistic story called ‘Shattering’ HERE.
    An exquisite story about thirty year old Bertha’s apotheosis or epiphany of bliss in her life, a bliss in the pear tree, the moon, her baby, her husband, her dinner party tonight, her friends attending the dinner: a married couple who call themselves Mug and Face, she with monkeys decorating the hem of her dress, a young idealistic poet called Eddie, and Pearl Fulton as Bertha’s latest unacknowledged Sapphic crush or bliss, I sense. This is all conveyed in a way that is quite beyond belief that it can be expressed so … blissfully? forever?

    “I must laugh or die.”


    “‘Life is so dreadful,’ she murmurs, but she does not feel it’s dreadful at all.”

    A vignette. Matilda defies the wind to go to her music lesson, and then travels in time to her future – we can all reach this new perspective, I reckon. Even today!


    “And I think it’s because this generation is just wise enough to know that it is sick…”

    Here the sickness relates to the title, but also can now relate to our physical condition today, I feel. And there is also a sense of intrusion as if compromising social distancing or self-isolation for the sake of sociability as a precursor to (or on the cusp of) unrequited, or even requited, romance. A brief and very complex story of Proustian or Quentin S. Crisp meetings between tea-drinkers, amid self-referential writerly subtleties. The ‘sleeping boy’ sculpture gives me the sense of a variation upon the theme of a human/ wood-metal-stone palimpsest in ‘sacred statues’ from a William Trevor story I read yesterday here.


    “A pageant of Good Hot Dinners passed across the ceiling, each of them accompanied by a bottle of Nourishing Stout . . .”

    The poignant story of dodgily feisty Ada Moss, of fuller figure and slightly older than some other ambitious, usually poverty-stricken, starlets. Her landlady (whose son she says had been in France during the Great War) threatens to throw her out of the digs where Ada boards, to throw her out for non-payment of rent. Ada, meanwhile, has many conversations of in-denial or wishful thinking with herself in various mirrors, as one acting job after another falls flat. Until she takes off with a man who likes fuller figures and whose small hat sailed like a yacht on his hair. Makes me think that the world today is all at sea, if not at visible war — with an unseen ceiling of sky now closing down on us and on whatever craft we have boarded…

  12. “The sense of touching, not God, but the closest thing to a God-mind one is ever likely to meet; an exquisite merger of innumerable histories and experiences reaching far back through time, gathering up stories and knowledge and sensory impressions…”
    — Shauna O’Meara (‘Scapes Made Diamond)
    Mansfield as this ‘gestalt’ godDESS?


    “And she knoo it was there — she knoo it it was looking at her just that way. She played up to it; she gave herself little airs.”

    Klaymongso sounds as it it is the American woman’s pet. But we never seem to know what sort of pet! Another slice of existence with a series of idiosyncratic fragments and impressions: descriptions and dialogue in a hotel with several guests we try to latch onto. But mainly about a couple from England, the man having seemed to have scared some small girls in their under-drawers earlier, in this hot land where you need mosquito nets. A Man Without Qualities, too, as in Musil? The contrast of a letter from London about snow. And we feel he is here under duress, because of his wife’s health, her needing to be in a hot clime…


    “Glorious girl! And when they had stood in front of the mirror, her white sleeve had just touched his black one. He could feel, yes — he could actually feel a warm, glowing spot, and he stroked it.”

    I don’t think I like Mr Peacock, preening his singing in front of young girls whom he teaches music, nor do I like his treatment of his wife and son. Katherine, though, has her tabs on him; she simply created him, using her inimitable impressionistic and fragmentary prose style, just to punish him by making him so unlikeable!

    “‘Do you know what that teapot reminds me of, mummy? It reminds me of a little sitting-down kitten.’
    ‘Does it, Mr. Absurdity?’”


    “Oh! Oh! Oh! It was a little house. It was a little pink house with white snow on the roof and green windows and a brown door and stuck in the door there was a nut for a handle.”

    That nut handle, how can ever one forget such a memory. Even Proust couldn’t manage that nut handle! An exquisite moving portrait of a well-staffed house preparing – with chairs and items of provender and a piano tuner – to have a violin sonata concert aperitif at a dinner party, with comestible fancies, silly decorations, and the two tiny children of the hosts (children called Sun and Moon) are both put to bed too early, but staying awake with scattered impressions of sound such as applause like rain, and later, in the story’s telling ‘dying fall’ of the post-party, witnessing the antics of their tipsy parents…

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