Katherine Mansfield. The Collected Stories & The Garden Party

After reading The Garden Party in April 2009:
This will not be a terribly thoughtful review, just an expression of excitement. I don’t know how I got this far in my life without anybody telling me what a wonderful writer Katherine Mansfield was. She was a master of the modern short story. When I consider most of the 20C short story collections I’ve read, I think that Mansfield got there first, and did it better. And there was a terrible moment when I saw why Virginia Woolf felt so threatened by her, because, if I’d read the book with no cover or front matter, I’d have thought, Wow, Virginia’s in really good form here! I’d only have been puzzled by the references to New Zealand.

The prevalence of the beautiful upper-class frustrated yearning blond woman character type raises my hackles, maybe because it’s such a stereotype, and from Paul Bowles to Michael Ondaatje I’ve seen it played out so many times (with all due respect to The English Patient, which I loved). But Mansfield made such wonderful variations on the character, even within its self-imposed limitations, and treated it in such ruthless ways, that I’ll deal with it. And there were other things I noticed and regarded as imperfections, of course, but no more than I’d find in any other great work.

It pisses me off that more writers don’t appear to feel threatened by her.

Then in March 2010, after reading the Collected Stories:
I love Katherine Mansfield, and I was determined to read all her stories. So this time around, I read only the ones I hadn’t read previously in The Garden Party and in another collection. So, while I give Mansfield raves for her best achievements in TGP and the other widely collected/anthologized stories, reading anyone’s Complete Works does rather broaden the experience, at the cost of dragging down the rating. She published only three collections during her lifetime, and there were good reasons why she rejected several of the other stories, now included here, from the books she was compiling. And she later disowned her first collection, In a German Pension, refusing to allow it to be reissued until such a time as she’d amassed a solid reputation as a serious writer. IaGP is, in fact, rather well written, but seriously obnoxious, jingoistic, and vulgar. So a newbie reader should keep in mind that not all the stories here met Mansfield’s own standards. However, I loved the inclusion of the unfinished stories. She sure could write an opening! Many of the unfinished stories contain such vibrant action and characterization that, at the end, one feels that one has read a complete work; sometimes, there are little dangling sentences and teases of what was to come, which illuminate her thought process.

read Apr. 2009-Mar. 2010

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