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19 May 2011

Bliss and Other Stories

Short stories aren't for everyone. If you prefer to sink into characters as well as have most questions tied up nicely, then short stories can leave you unsatisfied.

On the other hand, if you can view fiction like a work of art, such as a painting, where much is insinuated, left to the reader, boundaries are lost, the story is infinite, and yet the impact comes from a single moment, or a short series of moments.... then the short story form is your path into fictional artistry.

Bliss and Other Stories is a collection of 14 stories dealing with domestic moments in marriage or parenthood, as well as social situations between strangers.

Katherine Mansfield is an artist. Chekov is considered by many as the best writer of short stories and Mansfield is said to be an English translation of Chekovian form. She was also admired by Virginia Woolf. High praise indeed.

Her style is not to tell a story, but rather to reveal human psychology and emotion - ordinary vulnerability, frailty, flaws. And she does this best, I think, when writing about, not people, but the space between them. An area I'm consistently pulled into. The charged emotions and thoughts that pass between couples or family members embroiled in a shared history. Or the clumsy story-making between strangers. The misunderstandings, assumptions, disappointments, restraints, and quiet desperations.

She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror–but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big, dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something . . . divine to happen . . . that she knew must happen . . . infallibly.

Poetic reflection and touches of stream-of-consciousness paint an essence of the internal conflicts within characters. For me, her most successful attempts are when writing of a woman's emotional and domestic life. The turmoils, yearnings, conflicting needs, obligations, hopes, and emotional ties to others.

Her artistry is between the lines. Mansfield devastates me not with drama but with subtlety. It's the mundanity of emotions that wrings out my heart. If you prefer stories more about events rather the fluid inner workings of characters, then Mansfield will likely not be for you.

It had never been so plain to her as it was as this moment. There were all her feelings for him, sharp and defined, one as true as the other. And there was this other, this hatred, just as real as the rest. She could have done her feelings up in little packets and given them to Stanley. She longed to hand him that last one, for a surprise. She could see his eyes as he opened that. . . .

Bliss is the story that probably caught me most unaware, while Prelude is the best stylistically and most poignant.

My collections are yellowed with over 20 years onwership. Reading them now as an older woman, mother, and wife, I have a deeper appreciation for the infinite emotional aches of loving and being loved. And Mansfield is the close friend who doesn't apply a bandage, but rather says simply - I understand completely.

read the collection online


  1. Wow I really love the way you talked about this book. Definitely going to have to give it a read now! :)

    <3 Belly B

  2. oh - I ADORE short stories! Thank you for sharing! I MUST check this out now! :)

  3. Love Mansfield (and not just because she was a Kiwi like me). Loved her life and spirit and will never forget The Dolls House "I seen the little light". Plus got very obsessed at one stage of my life with Somerset Maughan. Actually still love him! Very dry and cynical, but always thought provoking!

  4. I love Mansfield also-and am very into short stories-I have in fact posted on 80 or so of Mansfield's stories-I have decided to follow your blog and look forward to reading your posts

  5. hope you like her! let me know.

    i need to read more Somerset Maughan.

  6. Beautiful review, Monica! I loved the first two paragraphs! With your permission I will quote it to my friends, if you are okay :) I love short stories. Initially I used to love stories which had a structure and where all the loose ends were tied up in the end. But in recent times I have come to also appreciate short stories which fit the beautiful description that you have given. I read a collection of short stories sometime back called 'Nothing But You : Love stories from the New Yorker' edited by Roger Angell. It features love in its various forms - that between parents and children, between friends, between lovers and between acquaintances and strangers. Because you love short stories, I think you will like it.

  7. I forgot to write about one more thing. I am glad you are still blogging about books. I love your new blog (new to me) 'Bohemian Twilight' :) The header image is so beautiful! And I love your blog's name :) Looking forward to reading your thoughts on books and other topics. If I may ask you, what happened to 'ink + chai'?

  8. This book sounds so delightful! I'm going to have to look it up at my library.

  9. love short stories, and intrigued by your write up here. and pleasantly suprised by the link to read online...saved for later :)

  10. I found this collection about 20 years ago and loved it then. Being 40 as well I think it may be time to read it again.