24 February 2005

Woolf & Mansfield

Amardeep Singh is making me wish I were back in school...

I'm teaching a class on 20th century British women writers this spring. It's a modified version of my standard "British modernism" course. I wanted to try teaching people like Irish Murdoch, Doris Lessing, A.S. Byatt, and Monica Ali, writers I often can't quite make room for. Thus far it's been a lot of Virginia Woolf, and a brief but exciting bit of Katherine Mansfield. [...]

Woolf and Mansfield are especially close in their shared vision of the ephemerality (or collapse?) of the big concepts that form the bedrock of 19th century literary individualism –- the distinction of the self from others, the ability to know and understand that self, and the ability to respond to crises rationally and intentionally. But where Woolf wrote monumental philosophical novels about the dissolution of the self, Mansfield makes the point in small, impressionistic passages in short stories whose themes seem trifling in comparison to Woolf’s. And yet the point is no less real, and no less admirably expressed.

A fascinating analysis of Mansfield follows.

Also, Alex Gregoire examines Mansfield's review of Woolf's "Kew Gardens" for insight into "The Garden Party," then concludes by quoting Mansfield on "her own intentions [...] from an excerpt of a letter she wrote to William Gerhardi in 1922":

...the diversity of life and how we try to fit in everything, Death included. That is bewildering for a person of Laura's age. She feels things ought to happen differently. First one and then another. But life isn't like that. We haven't the ordering of it. Laura says, "But all these things must not happen at once." And Life answers, "Why not? How are they divided from each other?" And they do all happen, it is inevitable. And it seems to me there is beauty in that inevitability.

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