Buck's Reviews > In a German Pension

In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield
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Jan 15, 10

bookshelves: chicks-dig-it

I realize I’m about to piss off some lovely people around here, but it can’t be helped: I dislike Virginia Woolf. A lot. The other day at the gym I was watching Family Guy on mute—yes, this is relevant—and the closed captions described a character’s unintelligible yammering as “pretentious babble.” Exactly. Pretentious babble is what I hear in my head when I read Woolf. I know what you’re thinking: “But, but—the beauty, the lyricism, the subtle nuances, the, the-" Yeah, fine, whatever. Pretentious babble. It’s just me, alright? I readily admit my mind is neither subtle nor nuanced enough to appreciate the delicate English rose that is Virginia Woolf. (Okay, if you want the truth, I had mildly positive feelings about Woolf until a girlfriend dragged me to see The Hours and I spent the whole time swallowing my own sick).

Why this apparently random and senseless attack on the grande dame of the English novel? Because I always had a preconception that Katherine Mansfield was in the same tradition of gauzy, water-coloured impressionism. But she’s not like that at all. She doesn’t do lyrical. Her prose is so astringent and vinegary you could pickle a fetus in it (or, you know, something inoffensive). And her irony: just withering—the kind of irony that shrivels everything it touches: men, women, children, and Germans. Especially Germans.

According to impeccable scholarly sources (Wikipedia), In a German Pension is largely autobiographical. As a very young woman, Mansfield found herself scandalously pregnant and was packed off to a Bavarian spa by her mother for a ‘rest cure’ (i.e. childbirth on the hush-hush). In that light, the book reads like a clever girl’s literary revenge on her circumstances. I’ll show these stupid Germans. And fuck you, mom.

Most of the pieces here are not really stories; they’re more like tart little sketches that capture a moment or a character while avoiding easy drama and cheap epiphanies. Some readers will be frustrated by the studied uneventfulness, but I’m okay with it. In my experience, a good 90% of life is just a bunch of nondescript stuff that won’t fit into a slick narrative, that isn’t even worthy of an anecdote. But clearly I need to get out more.

If the book lacks finish—Mansfield later dismissed it as “immature”—you have to remember this is the work of a twenty-two year old woman writing in 1910. The date is startling because there’s hardly a line here that couldn’t have been written yesterday. Somehow this rebellious, messed-up Kiwi chick turned herself into a modernist before there was any modernism to write home about. Just goes to show you how far a little talent and a shitload of anger can carry a person.
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Comments (showing 101-141 of 141) (141 new)

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message 101: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Hahaa! Good post.


message 102: by Jim (new)

Jim Buck, before you throw Woolf under the bus for good, you have to check out the Septimus Warren Smith sections of Mrs. Dalloway. Her take on a shellshocked soldier is almost Faulknerian.


message 103: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck Yeah, yeah. Jim's great. We all love Jim. I'm not jealous. Not at all.

I've read Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and snatches of a few other novels. Maybe some of the diaries. Not enough to render an authoritative verdict, but enough to deliver a wildly unbalanced diss on the Internet.

But do we have to fight about this? Can't I be just as great as Jim without loving Virginia Woolf? And can I get my hug now, or at least one of those aloof, there-there pat thingies?


message 104: by Miriam (last edited Jan 18, 2010 06:24PM) (new)

Miriam Perhaps it is not possible to clearly define post-modernism because post-modernists do not believe in Truth. Therefore, post-modernism may be a relative concept that connotes one set of things to me and different (or overlapping) set of things to you.


message 105: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck Um. Alice Munro. Hmmm. Yeah. Do we have to do this now? In front of the kids?

No, no. I haven't given her a fair chance. Recommend a title and I'll consider it for my new "chicks dig it" shelf. (Yes, I know the shelf name's kind of demeaning and ghetto-y, but at least I didn't call it the honeypot).




message 106: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Munro's way to girlie (womany?) for me, so that seems like a fair shelf assignment to me.


message 107: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck We like Miriam.


message 108: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck I pretty much like girls, period. I think my reviews make that clear, if nothing else. I just need to read more books by girls.


message 109: by Jessica (last edited Jan 18, 2010 07:18PM) (new)

Jessica hey, he liked Jean Rhys, which not everyone does.


(Munro, on the other hand...)


message 110: by Miriam (new)

Miriam If Buck reads Munro and tells me she wasn't girlie, I will try her.


message 111: by Jessica (last edited Jan 18, 2010 07:26PM) (new)

Jessica I like her. I admire her.
(why don't I love her? I love some stories I guess)


message 112: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Spoken from on High : I adore Jean Rhys. Alice Munro is FAR too girlie girl for me too, but I do not think that is a bad thing, and I'm reading Elizabeth Kostova's new book right now, so don't start on me. :-) heheh

As to Buck, I think in the spirit of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." When Gallahad is lured to the castle of women by the "Grail"light in the tower by the evil, awful Zutt, the only answer, according to those women, is "the only thing to be done is for you to spank me." "And me too." "Me too." "Yes, you must spank us all!"

On that note I bid you howdy!


message 113: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Sometimes things feel like this when women books are talked about. Oops.




message 114: by Jim (new)

Jim Anagram for Alice Munro: Manure Loci. Just saying.




message 115: by Miriam (last edited Jan 19, 2010 11:13AM) (new)

Miriam Stephen, when those chicks told you they would think you were sexy if you rode a horse naked, they are pulling your leg. Sorry, dude.


message 116: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Miriam wrote: "Stephen, when those chicks told you they would think you were sexy if you rode a horse naked, they are pulling your leg. Sorry, dude."

Miriam, that is a Valkyrie. I be a boy. hehehehe


message 117: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Jim wrote: "Anagram for Alice Munro: Manure Loci. Just saying. "

local manure?


message 118: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck The views expressed on this thread are not necessarily those of Buck Mulligan.






message 119: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Buck = Chicken


message 120: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck Chicken = yummy

Therefore, Buck = yummy


message 121: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Yes, that works just fine. Buck = yummy chicken afraid of expressing contrary views on local manure.


message 122: by Miriam (new)

Miriam yummy chicken afraid of expressing contrary views on local manure = challenging anagram.


message 123: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Ah, the joys of GoodReeads.


message 124: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! Buck wrote: "The views expressed on this thread are not necessarily those of Buck Mulligan."

This made me go cross-eyed.


message 125: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Ya know, I bet Buck Mulligan isn't even his real name, I bet it's Francois Peppenfusse


message 126: by [deleted user] (new)

Wha? Buck Mulligan is a pseudonym? There's no way. I'm sure his parents were evil graduate students. I bet their last name wasn't even Mulligan.


message 127: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck Since we're all friends here and it was bound to come out sooner or later, it's time to stop hiding behind this idiotic handle and tell you my real name. It's, it's...Leopold Bloom. But the missus calls me Poldy. You guys can too.

Whew. I feel so liberated.

Ceridwen, I'm so insanely jealous that you're getting comments from real, live authors. What do I have to do to get Sophocles to notice my kick-ass review? Friggin' hack (Sophocles, I mean, not me; I'm awesome.)


message 128: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Sophocles is dead, you dork! I mean Mr. Bloom


message 129: by [deleted user] (new)

That "Mr. Bloom" gave me a heart attack, because I was all like, "Who let Harold Bloom onto this thread?" Phew. (And you are awesome, Poldy. I'm more than half tempted to create a sock-puppet account for Sophocles and post to your reviews, but now I've tipped my hand. As usual.)

I think maybe if you reviewed more stuff written in the last millennium, you might get more writerly response. Possibly. Here's a great review that has an author playing gotcha, and the thread has a good round-up of other reviewer/author collisions. If you've got an hour to kill.


message 130: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I get comments, I just do not mention them because most of them are mystery authors, and I do win my fair share of First Reads.

Come now Francois, trying to act like a famous Joyce thing. Buck up, will you?


message 131: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 20, 2010 03:34PM) (new)

Ceridwen, do you also have the link to that CSI type book review/author collision? I can't remember what it was called.

I went looking for it recently - Richard has an author friend who was asking about responding to a GoodReads review & I wanted to use it as an example of how NOT to act - and it looks like Rose deleted it. The author was Paul Millen.


message 132: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Elizabeth wrote: "That's too bad about the Paul Millen thread. He was really a horrible ass, therefore it was worth preserving.

On the other side, my mother is a goodreads author. She is always very gracious (and ..."


Who is your mother? Please tell me it's not Virginia Woolf?


message 133: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck Jessica also had a (negative) review where the author posted a rather wry, well-timed comment, and then Jessica, out of guilt, went back and re-did the whole thing to make it less snarky. I'm on my way out the door and don't have time to track it down, but I can take a look later if nobody else finds it in the meantime.

You know, it was around this point on Meredith's last thread that I started complaining about the length of the thing. But at least that review was about something. I'm still enjoying your comments, of course. I'm just sayin', maybe we should think about handing over this dog to some nice old couple in the country. If you know what I mean.

But before we do that, you have to tell me, Elizabeth, which one's your mom? And on the off chance she is reading this: I apologize for all the ungentlemanly language, ma'am.


message 134: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Why Elizabeth, you sly dog you. Of course we'll ask for stories of your childhood. :-) Just kidding.

I agree with Buck. 154 entries in this fun thread is too much. Good night fair thread, may angels attend thee to they bed, just get out and into the oven. I mean...


message 135: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 20, 2010 06:33PM) (new)

We don't have to go home, but we can't stay here, eh Buck? I can take a motherfucking hint. (Sorry Elizabeth's mom.)

And Jessica links to that review in the thread I posted earlier.

[Edit: and Rick Walton being funny on one of my reviews.]


message 136: by Stephen (new)

Stephen I remember that thread, I was watching it the day it started and I alerted Bunwat whom I NEVER hear from, to go and see if it was violent and bloody. Remember, that was back when I was nice and wanted peace and love. I still want those things, but they just play well here.


message 137: by Miriam (new)

Miriam Most of my author comments are furious indictments of my stupidity and bad taste in not liking their books.


message 138: by Buck (new) - rated it 3 stars

Buck I'd kill for a "furious indictment of my stupidity" from a genuine author.

It's true: most of the writers I read are as dead as those mysterious implements, doornails. But last I checked, Carrie Fisher was still very much alive, and I've heard diddly-squat out of her. Could she possibly be indifferent to my creepy, Oedipal attentions?

Elizabeth, thanks for the link. I see your mom's interests include religion and spirituality, so now I feel like an even bigger asshole. I mean jerk.

Speaking of Oedipal, did everybody hear that mf-bomb go off? Kablooey!



message 139: by Miriam (new)

Miriam I'm sure Carrie's just dithering about trying to come up with a sufficiently clever come back, Buck.


message 140: by Stephen (new)

Stephen Buck, who can fault you. Except us of course.



message 141: by Stephen (new)

Stephen If she is even nicer than you Elizabeth, she must walk with the Angels.


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