The 'Burden' of the feminine: Frank Sargeson's encounter with Katherine Mansfield


This essay is situated in relation to the critical commonplace that the contrasting literary modes and prose styles of Frank Sargeson and Katherine Mansfield -- of hard-edged realist writing and the miniaturist ‘subjectivist’ writing of impressionism -- laid the foundation for the two traditions in New Zealand prose. I suggest that significant similarities can be found in the writers' artistic orientation, traceable to their critique of colonial culture and society: namely, an aesthetics of fragmentation, resistance to normative gender constructions of colonial society and their use of symbolic modes of representation. Furthermore, I argue that Mansfield can be traced as an intertextual presence in Sargeson’s work, alongside an implied gendered critique of her female voice, values and attitudes, and that he developed his repertoire by adapting her techniques of impressionism and impersonation to his ambivalently gendered viewpoint in order to nuance masculine vulnerability and unrequited love. This specific influence of Mansfield upon Sargeson will be illustrated with reference to his story, ‘A Man and his Wife’ (1939), in which I suggest he surreptitiously draws on Mansfield’s last story, ‘The Canary’ (1923), ‘writing back’ in a rural colonial context and voice to her metropolitan discourse

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