Katherine Mansfield and the origins of modernist fiction, Sydney Janet Kaplan, Cornell University Press 1991- “what form is it? You ask…as as I know, it’s more or less my own invention” – letters of Katherine Mansfield, p.359- what began as a ‘novel’ eventually became something new: a mixed genre, a multileveled, spatially ordered narrative.- Breaks the form of the bildungsroman but is a narrative of bildung nonetheless.
The spatial organization suggest simultaneity, but the typical linear patter of individual development is rather spread out among female characters. Kezia, the child yet unformed, but already containing within herself the inner structure to be unfolded.- Her brother is the absent center, the son whose meaning to his parents is still incipient, in potential. Stanley looks at his family at the table and thinks, “that’s where my boy ought to sit” but the active center is Kezia, the young girl; it is her en-gendering that the reader experiences, her realization of male dominance. – An awakening into female sexuality. It is also a rejection of male modes, and this strategy is parent in it all-over structure; its multiplicity, its fluidity, its lack of a central climax, and its many moments of endued sexual pleasure.- As a narrative is it implicit statement that the construction of gender should be the motivating center of the text. The technical innovations are devise to reveal this process of reproduction.
– Mansfield’s process of revision between The Aloe and Prelude reveals her continuing attempt to eliminate the personal intrusion – the cutting away of the author’s voice. Bringing the narration closer to a specific character’s consciousness and away from interpretation by an omniscient narrator.- The phenomenon of narrated monologue is demonstrated when “the reflecting mind is presented in the third person and in the customary epic tense of narration, the preterite.” Both Woolf and Mansfield employ this techniquecaught in the moment of transition between a passionate desire for a transcendental glimpse into the ‘truth’ of human consciousness, and the realisation that there is no ‘truth'”: there are only perceived fragments of highly ambiguous sensory stimuli (Van Gunsteren, 65)In a much similar way as in the Impressionist painting, Van Gunsteren stresses the nature of “blurring contours” in the Impressionist Narrative.Limiting point of view.
The narrator is limited and so the weight of conveying the story lies on the characters, the focalizors and their “sensory” perceptionsMansfield, saying that “Better a half-truth, beautifully whispered, than a whole solemnly shouted”, By distancing the focalizor to some level, that is, not employing the first-person narrative method, but creating an “extra-diegetic type of narrator” that is a “third-person” narrator, “together with multi-personal focalization” is how Mansfield achieves just the right level of distance which allows the realization of the transient quality of the moment for the reader (Van Gunsteren)- – A counter-process of resistance and rebellion is always at work within these dynamics. Linda’s resistance counters Stanley’s demands, but ineffectively. Hers is a primarily negative force: passive resistance. The imaginative powers necessary for active rebellion are not brought into force. She fantasizes escape but cannot envision what shape it should take.
The fears of rushing animals, a sense fo things coming alive through a force that Kezia calls it and Linda they.The characters’ experiences are discontinuous and fragmented and results in short stories composed of brief units. The children in their innocence cannot interpret the events around them. The adults distort and transform the sensory data they receive.
The character view of things are limited, highly individual and unreliable. Thus a momentary projection of the working of their minds becomes a dramatically Impressionist depiction of how life may appear to an ordinary family.From beginning to the end, the main characters are unable to sustain any realistic conception of themselves. Their minds resort to fantasies and uncertainties about themselves. Their mental conflicts find expression in illusions in a restricted sensory vision. Linda’s and Beryl’s underlying problem is not simply their effort to escape from everyday life. But rather to perceive and interpret themselves and discover their true identities.
For example, Linda with her ‘watchful eyes’, is ‘waiting for someone to come, watching for something to happen that just did not happen.” Her attempts to see more clearly are comprised by her imaginary illusions. She can only fantasize about life and her dreams are essentially deductive, deriving from an illusory picture of life.The many qualifying terms of uncertainty in the text, such as ‘to seem’, ‘as if’, ‘as though’, ‘as it were’, ‘in a kind of’, ‘rather like’, ‘like someone’, ‘as one might say’, ‘it reminds of’, and ‘makes you think of’, often indicate the illusion of proximity or a variable intensity. Reality in ‘prelude’ only exists as momentarily perceived by the characters, a sit seems to them at a particular moment. Kezia sees the aloe as old and withered; her mother sees it as cruel, invincible, and as a means of escape she lies about the blossom period.
There is continual irony as different characters misunderstand each other, fail to communicate or remain trapped in solipsistic isolation from each other.The two children Lottie and Kezia had to be left behind and picked up later when moving house, ‘the absolute necessities’ are transported first. Linda laughs hysterically and in her vision the children ‘ought to stand on their heads’. Linda is pregnant yet appears to hate her children and sees them as pieces of furniture. This imagery reveals Linda’s grappling with reality and her confusion. The fragment already gives the a reader a premonition of Linda’s discontent with her life.