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The Garden Party
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Short stories > The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield - September 2020

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message 1: by Susan (last edited Aug 26, 2020 01:22PM) (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
Welcome to our Buddy Read of Katherine Mansfield's short story, "The Garden Party," first published in 1922.

This will be the first in a monthly buddy read of a short story, an excellent idea suggested by Elizabeth. Several of us happily jumped on this suggestion and the first story featured is by Katherine Mansfield.

The Garden Party is a 1922 short story by Katherine Mansfield. It was first published (as "The Garden-Party") in three parts in the Saturday Westminster Gazette on 4 and 11 February 1922, and the Weekly Westminster Gazette on 18 February 1922. It later appeared in The Garden Party and Other Stories. Its luxurious setting is based on Mansfield's childhood home at 133 Tinakori Road (originally numbered 75), the second of three houses in Thorndon, Wellington that her family lived in.

Everyone is welcome, as always!


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4585 comments Mod
The story is in the public domain so it is online in lots of places - this looks like a nice copy on the Katherine Mansfield Society website:

http://www.katherinemansfieldsociety....

And the whole collection The Garden Party is on Project Gutenberg and also free on Amazon.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
Thanks for posting the links, Judy.


message 4: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Yes, thanks Judy. After all that enthusiasm, I couldn't find my copy. (I thought it was on my kindle, but it isn't.)


message 5: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
I was interested to learn that Katherine Mansfield was the author that Virginia Woolf saw as her natural competition and they had a rocky, but close relationship. Also, that it is possible she contracted TB from D H Lawrence.

I also noted she has a biography by Claire Tomalin - Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life Katherine Mansfield A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin

I do like Claire Tomalin, so have ended up adding that to the never ending TBR list!

There are lots of links to the Bloomsbury writers. Mind you, Virginia Woolf has just visited Bowen's Court in the Elizabeth Bowen biography I am reading and been quite snooty about it. Holes in the carpet and yet dressing for dinner...


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
I had a Mansfield binge in June and read Tomalin's biography (review here www.goodreads.com/review/show/3390372488) as well as her Bliss and Other Stories and her journals, the latter severely edited by her husband. She was a fascinating and difficult woman, and the Tomalin is compulsive reading. I think you'll enjoy it a lot, Susan.

I loved reading about the friendships between Woolf, Bowen and Rosamund Lehmann - trust Ginny to come over all snooty!


message 7: by Alwynne (new)

Alwynne | 1299 comments I may join in for this, haven't read 'The Garden Party' in a while, I enjoyed the Tomalin too. I read the first volume of Woolf's diaries recently, am intending to work my way through them slowly. Katherine Mansfield comes up a lot, definitely an uneasy relationship, and yes snooty sums up Woolf's attitude!


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
I've had Woolf's diaries in 5 volumes sitting on my shelves for years, really must get to them. A slow read sounds just right, Alwynne.


message 9: by Alwynne (new)

Alwynne | 1299 comments I've got them all now too, been dipping into diaries/letters at night or when my focus too poor for anything sustained. Seems to be working so far!


message 10: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
I do like diaries. I can see A Writer's Diary A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf on kindle. I suppose that is a condensed version.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
Yes, A Writer's Diary is edited down to focus on her musings about books - I have that as well, probably a Kindle bargain at some point.


message 12: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
49p. Seems a bargain, but the full versions would be better.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
Yes, I remember dusting off the diaries when we were reading the Hermione Lee Woolf biography, but didn't have time to get to them - I thought it would be interesting to compare them.


message 14: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Judy's link above is a nicely formatted copy (which is not always the case with free downloads).


message 15: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
Very true, Val.


message 16: by Elizabeth (Alaska) (last edited Aug 30, 2020 07:34AM) (new) - added it

Elizabeth (Alaska) I read this story last evening. Mansfield so well manages to evoke the anticipation of the party in most of the story. I don't know how old the daughters are, but I thought younger teenagers. The contrast of their extravagant lifestyle and those in the cottages was well done I thought.


message 17: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Yes Elizabeth, I got the impression they were teenagers as well, with perhaps Laura as the youngest sibling (or younger than several of the others). Katharine manages to convey quite a lot, without actually having to state it.
In addition to the contrast in lifestyle, she also manages to convey how the classes view each other. The people living in the cottages view Laura's visit as an honour, she is embarrassed that her family are taking little account of how their day has gone, and the rest of the family think some party leftovers quite sufficient to show their (minimal) concern.


Elizabeth (Alaska) I read someplace that the house in this one is based upon Mansfield's home in New Zealand. Do you think she also saw herself as Laura? I have not read others by Mansfield nor know her biography, so this is pure conjecture on my part.


message 19: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments I might have read that about the house as well, it rings a bell (although maybe someone in this group told me).


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
You're both spot on. One of my annotations in the biography of Mansfield I read earlier this year was "1907: 'a young workman living in a lane behind Tinakori Road was killed on the day the Beauchamps (Mansfield's family) were giving a summer party. The eldest daughter, Vera, was sent down to the bereaved family with some food, still wearing her party dress and hat.'"

Mansfield draws on her life and that of her family and friends in various ways in her writing without ever making it simply autobiographical.


Elizabeth (Alaska) Thanks, RC.

I'm glad I picked up a collection of Mansfield's.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
Her 'Bliss' is one of my favourite stories - I will be rereading The Garden Party soon.


message 23: by Val (last edited Aug 30, 2020 11:07AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Val wrote: "I might have read that about the house as well, it rings a bell (although maybe someone in this group told me)."
Where 'I might have read it' is in the first post on this thread.
My Dad had memory lapses, noticeable from around my age. It appears to be hereditary.


message 24: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4585 comments Mod
I think this is a brilliant story - RC, thank you very much for the biographical background. I had no idea it was so closely based on a real tragedy.


message 25: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 03, 2020 12:52AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie | 1555 comments I liked this too. I read it a couple of years ago. I remember it making me smile, while at the same delivering an apt message concerning the restrictions imposed by one's social class. A good character study in such a short piece. I thought it amusing to observe who was really making the decisions.


message 26: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments One of the things she depicts very well is that squirmy feeling which stops short of actual embarrassment (although there is not a word for it, other than embarrassment). Any of the family who heard it must have been bemused by 'Sorry about the hat!'.


message 27: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4585 comments Mod
Interesting that she feels she is intruding on the family by taking over the remains of the feast, but they seem to be pleased by her taking the trouble to visit, although of course we never see what happens through their eyes.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
I've just read this: was anyone else puzzled by Laura's response at the end? 'It was simply marvellous'.

I was reading it like a beautifully compressed rite of passage story, something like Invitation to the Waltz in miniature. Laura is being inculcated into the habits of her privileged family and when her mother gives her her hat, it's like a literal passing on of her social inheritance.

So I expected that bringing her face to face with the realities of working-class death would shake up her lovely, comfortable world with its roses and cream puffs and fifteen types of sandwiches... But when she actually sees the body, she finds it 'wonderful, beautiful... happy... happy... All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content.'

I'm not sure I understood this - help, anyone?


Elizabeth (Alaska) I was more focused on the contrasts in lifestyles that Laura was experiencing.

However ... is it perhaps that she expected there to be evidence of the accident on his face? Or that she felt he seemed to be at peace? Not sure.


message 30: by Chrissie (last edited Sep 03, 2020 09:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chrissie | 1555 comments This question arose for me too when I first read the story. I saved a link that offers an answer: https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/....

The view expressed is that she is made aware of all people's common humanity.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
Thanks Chrissie - that's certainly 'an' answer, though it feels a bit glib and easy to me...

Elizabeth, I hadn't thought that Laura might be worried about evidence of the wound that killed him, you're right. That works on the literal level but there also is a symbolic subtext to the story that Mansfield handles so well. That's still eluding me.

Leaving that puzzling ending aside for the moment, I loved the way we get intimations of Laura moving into young womanhood: after being 'crowned' with her mother's hat, she catches sight of herself unexpectedly in a mirror and doesn't recognise herself or her incipient beauty.


message 32: by Val (last edited Sep 04, 2020 02:59AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I've just read this: was anyone else puzzled by Laura's response at the end? 'It was simply marvellous'."
I think Elizabeth's answer is better: 'However ... is it perhaps that she expected there to be evidence of the accident on his face? Or that she felt he seemed to be at peace?'
Laura was expecting see something worse than a peaceful face.


Roman Clodia wrote: "I was reading it like a beautifully compressed rite of passage story, something like Invitation to the Waltz in miniature."
Yes, I thought of Invitation to the Waltz in the early parts. The death and visiting the bereaved family is a second 'rite of passage'.


message 33: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4585 comments Mod
I realise that I just felt as if I understood that comment at the ending when I finished reading the story, but thinking about it, I actually don't! I wonder if Mansfield left it vague on purpose, so that we can puzzle over what Laura meant?


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
Val wrote: "The death and visiting the bereaved family is a second 'rite of passage'."

Yes, I like that idea of a second rite of passage, but I'm still left unsatisfied and unsure about what the end is saying. Maybe, as Judy says, we're supposed to be puzzled?

I wonder also now if Laura is shown to be too young or just unable to process the concept of death? She makes viewing the dead body into a kind of transcendental experience but she somehow doesn't really engage with the grief of the wife who is definitely not described as 'beautiful' or peaceful: 'Her face, puffed up, red, with swollen eyes and swollen lips, looked terrible'.

As readers we also know that the wife is not just dealing with the grief of losing her husband so suddenly but is also facing the economics of how to support herself and her children without his income.

Is Mansfield's point that however sensitive and sympathetic Laura might be, her protected class status prevents her from entering into an understanding with the grieving wife? I don't know... but possibly this can be read as the opposite of a story ending on a comforting vision of common humanity across the classes.


message 35: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "Yes, I like that idea of a second rite of passage, but I'm still left unsatisfied and unsure about what the e..."
I must not have thought about in as much detail as you have, but I think that final scene was the main reason I thought Laura was the youngest, or one of the youngest, of the siblings. (Mansfield only suggests that her brother is older.) In the original family incident, on which the story is based, it is the eldest daughter who goes to the cottage.


message 36: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4585 comments Mod
Interesting points about the ending, RC - it's as though for Laura the visit completes the day, but as you say, for the dead man's family the misery will go on.

I definitely felt Laura was one of the younger ones, from the whole way the family treats her.


message 37: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments All this discussion has shown another advantage to reading short stories: we are all looking at this one in much finer detail than we collectively could in a novel.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
Judy wrote: "it's as though for Laura the visit completes the day"

Yes, that's exactly the feeling, which is so at odds with what's happened.

I also thought she was one of the younger siblings, though it's hard to pin age - she's clearly old enough to direct the workmen and to go to see the bereaved family alone. I was guessing adolescent from the scene with the hat and her looking at herself in the mirror.


Chrissie | 1555 comments RC, I think your are right about it being too glib. Maybe, as you point out, Laura is just too young, naive and inexperienced to grasp the difficulties that will arise for his wife. Your reasoning makes more sense.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
I guess there's the question of whether Laura will become her mother's daughter, slipping into their elitist, privileged life (I found the basket of leftover party food breathtakingly patronising and insensitive), or whether she'll develop a more progressive and socially-enlightened outlook: she could go either way, and maybe the story is about her being on that cusp, just as she is in moving from girlhood into young womanhood.

Mansfield is excellent, isn't she, at packing so much into a short piece of writing, and merging a literal, visual style with something that can also be read at a deeper, figurative level.


message 41: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Roman Clodia wrote: "I found the basket of leftover party food breathtakingly patronising and insensitive."
It is, but the family who were being patronised probably didn't see it that way. Mansfield portrays them as pleased to get the food and the visit (and that says more about class and social attitudes than if she had expanded on it).


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
I thought that at first but then the sister is described as speaking to Laura in 'an oily voice' and just a page later 'tried an oily smile' - KM is too careful a writer for that to be accidental. I read that as the sister performing a kind of grateful obsequiousness. The widow has no idea who Laura is or why she's standing around with a basket. We don't see the children. It's all so subtly done and is suggestive rather than explicit.


message 43: by Val (new) - rated it 3 stars

Val | 1710 comments Well spotted RC. I agree that KM would not have repeated the word accidentally. I'm not sure that changes my reasoning, I will have to think about it for longer. (My first thought was that it reinforced it.)


message 44: by Roman Clodia (last edited Sep 05, 2020 04:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
On another point all together, I really like the sound of cream cheese and lemon curd sandwiches - a bit like instant cheesecake, maybe.
I expect their lemon curd is home-made, not picked up from Sainsbury's!


Elizabeth (Alaska) If they are anything like lemon cheesecake, they should be marvelous.


Roman Clodia | 5062 comments Mod
We clearly share more than a taste for Zola, Elizabeth :))


message 47: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4585 comments Mod
I meant to say, what does everyone think of the sound of the actual party? Most of the story is preparation and aftermath, with the party itself actually taking up only a few paragraphs, and seeming almost like a dream. I had somehow thought it took up more space than it does.


message 48: by Jill (new)

Jill (dogbotsmum) | 637 comments I have just read this, and coming here so late, I think everything I was thinking has been mentioned.


message 49: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
Me too, Jill. It has been a busy week, but I intend to read this story at the weekend. I started it, but somehow never completed it and need to start from the beginning.


message 50: by Susan (new)

Susan | 9998 comments Mod
I have completed this now. I liked the anticipation of the party and the sense of Laura's attitudes not being understood by her family. I agree that the ending was a little strange - but I also felt it was somewhat unkind of her mother to send her alone with the basket.


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