Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mansfield, Women, and the Moon

I found the relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf particularly interesting. It seems that both women had their own set of problems. Mansfield’s was her deteriorating physical condition and Woolf’s was her mental condition (bipolar disorder). It is interesting that neither one of these women take the other’s condition into consideration when they are mad at one another. Hermione Lee describes Woolf and Mansfield as “mutually inspiring but competitive” (Lee 381). It is interesting that after Katherine Mansfield’s death Lee describes her as haunting Woolf. “Katherine haunted her too, not as a literary rival but as an object of ‘deep feeling’ (Lee 394). Both of their lives seem tragic in their own right.

The close female relationship that Woolf and Mansfield shared, as troubled as it was, is depicted in her stories. In the short stories that we read there seems to be, at least at some point in the story, a pairing of two of the female characters. In “Bliss,” Miss Fulton and the narrator stand at the open window and stare out at a flowering tree. The two women come together to have a unique experience. “Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?” (Mansfield 153). At the beginning of “Prelude,” you have Kenzia and Lottie sitting together, while Isabel was “perched beside the new handy-man” (79). Often Lottie and Kenzia are depicted together and Isabel is on the outside. In “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” the two sisters, Josephine and Constantia, are together the entire story. I found that they did not seem to even have personalities of their own but functioned more as a pair than as individuals. In “At the Bay,” Beryl Fairfield is paired with Mrs. Harry Kember in section V. This is the scene where Beryl decides to bathe with Mrs. Harry Kember instead of her family. They talk and Mrs. Harry Kember encourages her not be as shy as she is because she is beautiful. There is not as much a pairing in “The Garden Party.” However, Jose and her mother stick together against Laura when she wants to cancel the party because a poor neighbor has died.

Another commonality between the stories is the reoccurrence with scenes where the moon is present in the description. Excluding the “The Garden Party,” every story that we read had a scene where the moon was described or used and most of these scenes involved the female characters only. In the scene from “Bliss” that I quoted before, Miss Fulton and the narrator are staring out at the moon as the light shines on them. In “Prelude,” old Mrs. Fairfield has pin or necklace (I could not determine which one because it only said “at her throat”) with “a silver crescent moon with five little owls seated owls seated on it” (92). Also in “Prelude,” “[s]taning in a pool of moonlight Beryl Fairfield undressed herself” (87). In the first scenes of Prelude Kenzia and Lottie are traveling under the moon. In the last scene of “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” Constantia remembers, “the time her wonder was like longing. She remembered the times she had come in here, she crept out of bed in her nightgown when the moon was full” (229). In the last scene of “At the Bay,” Beryl is romping around out in the moonlight with Harry Kember. The last section says, “[a] cloud, small, serene, floated across the moon. In that moment of darkness the sea sounded deep, troubled” (279).

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