Skip to main content

Review: The Montana Stories, by Katherine Mansfield


Pages: 327
Original date of publication: 1921-1928
My copy: 2007 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, October 2012

Katherine Mansfield wrote the 25 stories in this collection during the 9 months she spent at Montana sur Sierre in Switzerland, seriously ill with tuberculosis. The stories are arranged in the order she wrote them, and many were left unfinished. Some characters are recurring; Mansfield also gained inspiration from other writers, including Chekhov, Louisa May Alcott, Virginia Woolf, Henry James, and DH Lawrence.

Mansfield chastised herself for writing “lowbrow” stories and made jokes about them (“the Mercury is bringing out that very long seaweedy story of mine ‘At the Bay.’ I feel inclined to suggest to them to give away a spade an’ bucket with each copy…”); but as the publisher’s note at the end says, “what choice did she have?” Mansfield wrote herself that she did not consider herself a good writer. But what we see in Mansfield’s stories is an interest in human relationships; we also see, in this period leading up to her death, an increasing interest in mortality. What these stories show is an interest in the diversity of life, for Mansfield wrote about all types of people going though all types of situations.

The note at the beginning says that Mansfield would not have approved of having these unedited stories anthologized, and it’s easy to see why. Many of the unfinished stories here are more like ideas for stories rather than fully fleshed out stories. Several of the stories were left unfinished because Mansfield turned her attention to writing magazine articles in order to pay for treatment; still, you get the impression that these stories have a lot of potential. Some of the finished stories were published in Sphere magazine and are here accompanied by (highly stylized) illustrations.

Extracts of Mansfield’s diary from this time are reprinted in the publisher’s note at the end of the book, and give the reader a sense of context. In all, this is an interesting glimpse into the mind of an author who knew she was dying and yet had one of the most creative periods of her life (perhaps fueled by the fact that she knew she was dying?). As Mansfield wrote in her journal, “Stronger than all these desires, is the other, which is to make good before I do anything else. The sooner the books are finished, the sooner I shall be well, the sooner my wishes will be in sight of fulfillment.”


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Pages: 972 Originally published: 1944 My edition: 2000 (Chicago Review Press) How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, 2004

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is…

Review: Jane Austen's Letters, ed. by Deirdre Le Faye

Pages: 667 Original date of publication: 2011 My copy: 2011 (Oxford University Press) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, April 2013
This is a compilation of many of Jane Austen’s letters, most of them sent to her sister Cassandra between 1796 and 1817, the year of her death. Although many of Austen’s letters were destroyed by her sister in order to preserve the family reputation, the collection contains over 160 letters in which Austen gives her sister details about her life in Chawton—as well as giving us a tantalizing glimpse of what was going through her mind as she was writing her novels (especially the novel that was to become Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions). There are other letters here, too, giving advice to her niece and professional correspondence to publishers—as well as a couple of letters that were written by Cassandra Austen after Jane’s death.
To the sisters, the letters acted in the way that phone calls do today; Austen’s news is all about pe…

Review: Midnight in Peking, by Paul French

Pages: 259 Original date of publication: 2013 My copy: 2013 (Penguin) Why I decided to read: How I acquired my copy: Phoenix bookstore, May 2013
In January 1937, the body of a young British girl, Pamela Werner, was found near Peking’s Fox Tower. Although two detectives, one British and the other Chinese, spent months on the case, the case was never solved completely, and the case was forgotten in the wake of the invasion of the Japanese. Frustrated, Pamela’s father, a former diplomat, tried to solve the crime. His investigation took him into the underbelly of Peking society and uncovered a secret that was worse than anything he could have imagined.
At first, I thought that this would be a pretty straightforward retelling of a true crime, but what Paul French (who spent seven years researching the story) reveals in this book is much more than that. Foreign society in Peking in the 1930s was stratified, with the British colonials at the top and the White Russian refugees at the bottom, but…