"The Garden Party"

"The Garden Party" - from The Garden Party (1922)

The news that a working-class neighbour has been killed threatens to destroy the wealthy Sheridan's garden party, a situation that exposes the middle-class family's inability to feel emotion: "you won't bring a drunken workman back to life by being sentimental". Laura, the daughter does not feel that they should continue with the party - "Mother, isn't it really terribly heartless of us?" while her mother distracts her by giving her a new hat, stating: "People like that don't expect sacrifices from us. And it's not very sympathetic to spoil everyone's enjoyment as you're doing now." "The Garden Party" is a show of self- aware extravagance and consumption. There are fifteen different types of "exquisite" sandwiches; roses chosen as they "are the only flowers that impress people at garden- parties"; "passion-fruit ices" that are "really rather special". Time here is structured by meals, a concept used by Mansfield as a social levelling device linking the neighbours to the Sheridans: Breakfast was not yet over... And what a beautiful morning... lunch was over by half past one, ... And the perfect afternoon slowly ripened, slowly faded". Even the afternoon becomes an object to be consumed.

It is a story of class difference - Linda refers to the Scotts as "people of that class". Laura is genuinely shocked at a workman "caring for the smell of lavender" despite believing herself to be above "these absurd class distinctions". She realises through the progress of the story that the rift between the classes cannot be destroyed, despite her mother's grotesque command that Laura take round a basket of the "sandwiches, cakes, puffs, all uneaten" to the family of the dead man. Laura is incapable of dealing with emotions due to the class she has been brought up in and is disgusted by the truth, shown when she looks in the mirror: "She couldn't look at herself; she turned aside". At the sight of the dead man lying on the bed, she decides she cannot, "go out of the room without saying something to him. Laura gave a loud childish sob. 'Forgive my hat,' she said." The inability of the Sheridans to put feelings into words is emphasised by the last lines of the story between Laura and her brother Laurie:

"'Isn't life,' she stammered, 'isn't life -' but what life was she couldn't explain. No
matter. He quite understood.
'Isn't it, darling?' said Laurie."

Instead of Laura having emotions and a language to express those emotions, the "kisses, voices, tinkling spoons, laughter, the smell of crushed grass were somehow inside her. She had no room for anything else".

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