Sample Questions1. Explore the freedom, which the short story form allows Katherine Mansfield.
Discuss the differences of the short story in comparison with the novel: absence of anecdote; concentration of detail; speed with which the reader needs to get to know the characters. Mention contemporary short story writers - for instance James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf - and suggest how Mansfield changed the form of the short story by concentrating on slices of life, reducing the importance of plot and increasing the importance of description. Talk about how Mansfield described her writing as "a kind of special prose" and use samples of her writing to illustrate its affinity to poetry.
The short story allows an impressionistic viewpoint to be built up and characters can appear as cameos as they do in real life, not weighed down with explanation. It allows Mansfield to create a 'cry' against corruption and is the perfect vehicle for the exploration of the fleeting nature of time. Discuss the fragmented structure of her stories and the way that the stories open and close in a certain way - opening mid- action and with a time marker, closing with an unnerving stillness.
Talk about the different techniques Mansfield uses in her stories - the large importance of symbolism as a binding force. The use of time could be mentioned; Mansfield uses time to structure her stories. The short story allows her to explore the concept of the moment because it allows a finality and yet an eternity of ending.2. Identify Mansfield's representation of a 'moment.'
Each single story being an 'event' but not a plot in itself, it suits the modernist view of meaning and self as disorderly, ephemeral and tied to no rational sequential experience. The world is a series of still-life snapshots taken in rapid succession - the garden party, her first ball, Mr Reginald Peacock's day.
Mansfield's work is saturated with symbolism both within each story - the pear tree in "Bliss", the aloe in "Prelude", the sea in "At the Bay" - or across the stories, such as insects, telegrams, moths, sun and moon, lamps. There is also the repetition of certain phrases throughout the story to represent a certain image: "not in a case like a rare, rare fiddle" ("Bliss") as though trying to cling on to some kind of structuring ritual for safety. Her work, like Virginia Woolf's, explores the fleeting moment and Mansfield's aim, as she states in a letter to her husband Murry in 1918, was "a cry against corruption"; it is neither a reflection nor a protestation, just a 'cry.' The plot begins with a small incident - Henry James' "germ" and builds on the fragment, at each step intensifying the mood that eventually triggers the self-analysis of a moment. It is a delicate balance of opposing forces - of yearning and guilt, of deprivation and indulgence. The brevity and self- containment of a short story, described by the critic Marcel Brion as "une oeuvre d'art totale en elle-meme", allows the build up to that 'moment' as emphasised in "A Cup of Tea" by the beggar girl's sigh of 'Madam, may I speak to you a moment?'
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