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June 17, 2008

Forgotten Fiction - CLASSICS YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

The Garden Party

and Other Stories

(By Katherine Mansfield. First published in 1922.)


Born in New Zealand, Katherine Mansfield emigrated to England, where she became a contemporary of Virginia Woolf, who greatly admired her work. Mansfield died of tuberculosis at a much too young age — just a year after the publication of this fine story collection. 

The title story itself is perhaps her masterpiece: When a lavish garden party coincides with the accidental death of a local workingman, it awakens in the daughter of the hosts a newborn social conscience. Later, when she visits the home of the dead man’s family, she is shocked at the genuine grief and poverty of her neighbors, yet she manages to hold onto her sense of romantic tragedy. 

The Garden Party and Other Stories: By Katherine Mansfield. First published in 1922
The Garden Party and Other Stories: By Katherine Mansfield. First published in 1922

It is typical of Mansfield to create such complicated heroines: On the one hand, the author at times seems to be lampooning her characters, pointing out the often ridiculous ways in which they are entrapped by social class; on the other, they remain deeply sympathetic. 

At the time of its publication, Mansfield’s clear, direct style and way of launching the reader into the center of the action was both original and daring. The opening of “The Garden Party” could hardly be more immediate: And after all the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it. Windless, warm, the sky without a cloud. Only the blue was veiled with a haze of light gold, as it is sometimes in early summer.

Characters in other stories include couples who engage in marital compromise, enduring its machinations and deceptions. Each story in “The Garden Party” is its own little Edwardian morality play. —Mary Welp