Mansfield's Prose Style

She hardly dared to breathe
For fear of fanning it higher.
And yet she breathed,
Deeply, deeply.

She hardly dared to look
Into the cold mirror.
But she did look
And it gave her back
A woman.


By arranging two sentences of Katherine Mansfield's prose into the recognisable form of a poem, the similarities between her writing style and that of the poet become apparent. Through the use of a short story, she has the compression of detail needed to define an emotion, a liberated unconscious free from the constraints of civilisation. She searches for the best definition of a sensation, as Bertha declares in "Bliss":

"Oh is there no way you can express it without being 'drunk and disorderly?' How idiotic civilisation is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare, fiddle?"

Mansfield observed of her own unique writing style: "I feel always trembling on the brink of poetry - but especially I want to write a kind of long elegy to [my brother]. Perhaps not in poetry. Not perhaps in prose. Almost certainly in a kind of special prose." In this "special kind" of prose, due to her continual reworking of text, she focuses on the 'life' within a plot as opposed to the surface layer of action and so chooses simple plots where she can focus on the sound and direct impact of words.

This powerful concentration of experience is heightened by Mansfield's brevity of language. She omits 'and', 'but' and 'or', to be replaced by a prolific use of the semi- colon, the hyphen and '-ing' which she uses to depict the fragmented and inconsequential sequence of a thought pattern. This technique allows layer by layer of image to construct rapidly in front of the reader's eyes, as in "At the Bay": "Standing in a pool of moonlight Beryl Fairfield undressed herself - letting her clothes fall, pushing back with a languid gesture her warm heavy hair."

A novel cannot reach this intimacy as it has the burden of facts and explanation; Mansfield avoids the anecdotal, fearing that it would destroy the essence of a moment because time and life are endlessly moving forward: "as soon as one paused to part the petals, to discover the underside of the leaf, along came Life and one was swept away." ("At the Bay"). Her prose style at times moves away from the poetic and veers towards the dramatic and the compression of words dissolves the voice of the narrator: "Virginia is seated by the fire. Her outdoor things are thrown on a chair; her boots are faintly steaming in the fender." (Late at Night).

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