Katherine Mansfield, Bliss and Other Stories (1920)
I don’t usually seek out short stories, though I often enjoy them when I do read them. Usually I’m looking for a longer-term reading experience, with characters I can live with over time. But when I read Katherine Mansfield’s collection Bliss and Other Stories (having drawn it as my Classics Club Spin book), I was reminded of how a beautifully rendered painting of a few objects, or an insightful portrait, can be a perfect work of art; we don’t always want or need a grand historical canvas with dozens of figures. In the same way these exquisitely written stories cast light on just a few characters or events, with an economy of language that does not lessen their emotional impact, but may even serve to heighten it. Freed from the necessity of plodding through a complicated plot, Mansfield often comes at her subjects in a surprising, sideways manner, with effects that are sometimes startling, sometimes amusing, but always masterfully done.
I know next to nothing about Mansfield, except that she was from New Zealand. This gave me the notion that her stories would be set in that country and that I would learn something about that place. However, this turns out not to be a strong element, at least in this particular collection; many of the stories are set in Europe, and the only one that is obviously set in New Zealand, the opening novella called “Prelude,” is far more occupied with the inner lives of the characters and their particular physical circumstances than with the setting in a wider sense. This is in no way a drawback, only a false expectation that I had to overcome in the process of reading.
The stories often end with a reversal or down-turn in the protagonist’s fortunes, but so light was Mansfield’s touch that this somehow did not depress me as it does with some authors. Comedy and tragedy can be very close together, and these stories delicately reveal their affinity.
Many more of Mansfield’s stories await me in my e-book edition. I’m sure I’ll be dipping into them again for a brief, invigorating dose of a fine writer’s art.
Review copy source: Free e-book from Girlebooks
Classics Club List #40
8 thoughts on “Short and Bittersweet: Bliss and Other Stories”
This sounds really good, and this post has reminded me to use girlebooks more. I love their editions and I've found some great books on there before.
They do have excellent books, and it's so nice to see them properly formatted and proofread. I was sad when they stopped posting new ones, but there are lots I have not read yet.
I haven't read any of Mansfield's short stories, but I really like her poetry. Time to check out her writing in more depth.
And I didn't know she wrote poetry too. I will have to look that up as well. Thanks!
This is a writer I have never read. Hmm, someone to consider for my next Classics list.
I read a few Mansfield's back in the 90's. I really enjoyed them & can't think why I haven't returned to them for a reread.Thanks for the reminder 🙂
They're rather quiet and unassuming. But very worthwhile, once you get into them.