Veiling and unveiling: Mansfield's modernist aesthetics


The wearing of a veil like other fashionable items of attire in Mansfield’s fiction ‒ parasols, hats, gloves, muffs, and hair ribbons ‒ usually serves more than mere decoration, protection or fashion. Such accessories often represent symbolically an intangible emotion or feeling, and can be read as a form of disguise. Diaphonous veils that create a filmic layer between viewer and external world, hint at a disturbance in the field of vision and the need for a different mode of seeing. Often this layering signals the necessary artifice of fiction-making and when associated with illusion, deceit and storytelling, points to Mansfield’s shaping of her art. In stories and sketches like “Die Einsame”, “The Dark Hollow”, “The Escape” and “Taking the Veil”, she reworks the veil motif as an emblem of self-impersonation, artifice and impersonality. Metaphorically lifting or lowering the veil can be associated with the aesthetic principle of “the glimpse” and the author’s ability to veil and unveil, as in Middleton Murry’s view of her art as offering “those glimpses of reality that in themselves possess a peculiar vividness”, and as stated in her own wish “to lift that mist from my people and let them be seen and then hide them again”. This paper examines veil imagery in several of Mansfield’s stories as a significant motif in her modernist aesthetics with which she registers problems of sight and vision in relation to representation

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