Monday, February 1, 2010

Short Story Monday: "The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield

Virginia Woolf once said Katherine Mansfield produced "the only writing I have ever been jealous of." Woolf also wrote (perhaps jealously?) "... the more she is praised, the more I am convinced she is bad." These quotes, along with this mention from Paperback Reader, sent me in search of Mansfield's stories.

Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) was a contemporary and a rival of Virginia Woolf. She was born and raised in New Zealand, contracted tuberculosis in World War I, and died at 34. Her story, "The Doll's House" (1922) was first published in The Nation & the Antheneum. It is seemingly simple and straightforward, and begins:

"When dear old Mrs. Hay went back to town after staying with the Burnells she sent the children a doll's house."

The house, described in some detail with emphasis on a tiny lamp, is cause for great excitement. The three Burnell children cannot wait to tell their classmates about it. Isabel, the eldest, said she would be the first to tell, but the other two might "join in after".

"There was nothing to answer. Isabel was bossy, but she was always right, and Lottie and Kezia knew too well the powers that went with being the eldest."

As the other children are told, they gather in a ring around the Burnells. They will be allowed to visit the doll's house in groups of two.

"And the only two who stayed outside the ring were the two who were always outside, the little Kelveys. They knew better than to come anywhere near the Burnells."

As bits of the Kelvey's history were presented, my heart grew heavier. Lil and "our" Else have not had an easy time of it. The story builds to a climax as their opportunity to view the doll's house presents itself.

The most striking feature in "A Doll's House" is that all the children seem to be so aware and accepting of social hierarchy - within the family, at school, and in the village. That leaves the reader with plenty to think about. You can read "A Doll's House" here.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John at The Book Mine Set.

21 comments:

  1. This is what I'm learning to love about short stories - that the author can take a simple event and build a story that draws a reader's emotions right in. And, to do it in so few words is amazing. Thanks for the link. I'm off to read the Doll"s House.

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  2. Virginia Woolf, jealous? The Virginia Woolf? This Mansfield person must've really been something.

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  3. Unfortunately I think we are all, adults too, too accepting of social hierarchy. Sounds like this one has some interesting themes!

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  4. This sounds like another goody. I will have to go read it. I've never read anything by Mansfield.

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  5. I feel like I've read this before, but can't place when. High school, maybe? College? I'll have to give it a reread and see if it comes back to me.

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  6. I MUST dust off my copy of Katherine Mansfield's Collected Stories. If I get time tonight I'll reread this one - it sounds brilliant. I love how Mansfield can write such complete, and such heartbreaking, stories in just a few pages. Hers was real genius; no wonder Virginia felt threatened!

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  7. I used the Woolf quote in a post on Katherine Mansfield last year (I read "Bliss"); I think it's a wonderful insight into their friendship and into Woolf's psychology.

    The social hierarchy of the story demonstrated by children is chilling; I think the story encapsulates the cruelty of children wonderfully well and the longing of the Kelveys is haunting. "The Garden Party" is fabulous too.

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  8. I have yet to read any Katherine Mansfield but I think this sounds lovely - I own my own doll's house :)

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  9. Margot - I can't believe that at this time last year, I though I hated short stories! Hope you enjoy The Doll's House.

    E.L. Fay - Yup, that Virginia Woolf! I'm going to read a few more of Mansfield's stories.

    John Mutford - I agree, but it was sad to see such acceptance of class in these kids.

    Teddy Rose - This is the first I've read of Mansfield, too. I have a couple more bookmarked for later.

    Ali - Let me know what you think.

    Bookssnob - I just caught a glimpse of that genius in the story. I'll definitely read more of them.

    Paperback Reader - That quote does stop you in your tracks, doesn't it? I have The Graden Party bookmarked, too.

    Verity - I always wanted a 'real' doll house when I was growing up. We had the 'toy' houses, but nothing as wonderful as the one in this story.

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  10. I like that you give us links to these short stories. I'm going there now!

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  11. Staci - Glad you like the links! There are a lot of older stories out there, and The New Yorker is a great source for more current ones. Hope you like Mansfield.

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  12. Good story. And I like that there are little strands of not-fully-explained-background tucked in, like the aunt's letter. It makes the world of the short story seem wider than its length would suggest.

    As sad as the Kelveys are, it is also sad to see Kezia being curbed by her elders.

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  13. Christy - I'm so glad you it! There really is more to these short stories than a lot of people think. And I also agree that it's sad to see Kezia bossed around by the older sister... and to have her so accepting of it.

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  14. Thanks for reminding me that I need to read more of Mansfield's stories. You are so right about Virginia Woolf's reaction to her; they loathed each other, and yet when Mansfield died, Woolf did feel sympathy.

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  15. DS - Oh, did they really loathe each other? It's a relationship I'd like to read more about...

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  16. I just read my first Mansfield short story yesterday, "Miss Bliss"-I loved it and for sure will be reading more-

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  17. Mel U - I'm not familiar with Miss Bliss, but I love the title! The Doll's House is an excellent story.

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  18. Joann-I just posted on Doll House and linked to your great post-

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  19. I like Kezia Most.Dolls House is one of my favourite story.This is the most intersting lesson of my 12th standard

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  20. soumya - I'm so glad you liked the story! Maybe you will read even more by Katherine Mansfield.

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  21. is there a historical background to this short story based on its time or place setting?

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