FICTION//The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield

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Before I read A Secret Sisterhood, I confess that I didn’t know much about Katherine Mansfield, except that my grandma loved her stories- so much so that she sent me this huge book of all of Mansfield’s stories, including those that were unfinished at the time of her death aged 34.

I was intrigued by the story ‘Bliss’, mentioned in A Secret Sisterhood as a source of potential conflict between Mansfield and her famous frenemy, Virginia Woolf. It’s a fascinating story that some think was reworked by Woolf into Mrs Dalloway. Of all the stories, ‘Bliss’ strikes me as probably one of the most powerful of the collection.

As an outsider (she was from New Zealand and existed on the outskirts of the famous Bloomsbury group) Mansfield found it harder to find recognition in interwar Britain and her work often explores this- sometimes in heartbreaking detail. Her heroines are often young, poor and ill: like Mansfield herself. There’s also darkness here, although sex and death are never made explicit- but they’re there, hidden beneath symbolism and a Modernist style that takes a while to get used to.

My favourite stories were probably the ones that Mansfield most hated, the gently funny early stories set in a German pension (an early sort of health spa). She has such a whip smart way of writing people and their peculiarities that you can imagine these characters as real people, despite them being created a hundred years ago.

It’s a huge book and it took me a good while to get through it, but it was very much worth it.

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