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Not minor but major: critical (mis)interpretation in the fiction of Katherine Mansfield

By Gerri Kimber

Abstract

The ‘Decadent Era’ in France, spanning the period between the Commune of 1871 and the Great War, has come to represent a specific literary period, out of whose complexities was to emerge much of twentieth century European Modernism. This literary climate of innovation allowed experimental writers like Katherine Mansfield, now viewed as one of the main innovators of the Modernist short story, to flourish. For many years after her death, critics commonly placed Mansfield as a minor writer, dealing in a delicate, feminine way with the domestic aspects of life – the literary equivalent of painters such as Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt with whom her work was often compared. By contrast, in this paper, I aim to mark Mansfield out as an innovator, a Modernist and a feminist. Her own unique form of Modernism was not derivative of other contemporary writers, but was, in fact, a product of her symbiosis of late nineteenth century techniques and themes, for the most part introduced through her reading of Arthur Symons, the dominant ‘critical voice’ in her formative early years. In this paper I shall take one of Mansfield’s stories and reveal its covert fin-de-siècle and decadent imagery, together with its theme of sexual ambiguity, at the same time exposing its Baudelairean influences, demonstrating how all these factors enabled her to find a way of extending the boundaries of her own prose expression

Topics: PR9639.3
OAI identifier: oai:nectar.northampton.ac.uk:4936
Provided by: NECTAR
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