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Archive for September, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t decide which version of this song to pick – Cilla Black? Dinah Washington? Sarah Vaughn? Frank Sinatra?  Peggy Lee?  Jule London? Diane Shuur? Jeri Southern? Anita O’Day? The Beatles?!

But in the end it had to be the most straight-up version I could find, sung by the very lovely Jo Stafford, for her warm, elegant, lyrical rendition of this timeless classic and the marvelous, sustained, extended lines of her phrasing.

And for some icing on the cake, here are  some pictures of my beautiful home state, Colorado.

It usually turns cold and a little grey  here this time of year, but not this time – the leaves have not even thought of falling –  The high is going to be an unbelievable 83 degrees, and the sky is going to be Colorado blue,  –  and its my Birthday –  so Happy Birthday to me, and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pedro Almodóvar!

Now close your eyes, and remember the most beautiful fall day you ever had!

The leaves of brown
Came tumblin’ down, remember
In September in the rain

The sun went out
Just like a dying ember
That September in the rain

To every word of love
I heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play
A sweet refrain

Though spring is here,
To me it’s still September
That September in the rain

To every word of love
I heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play
A sweet refrain

Though spring is here,
To me it’s still September
That September in the rain
That September in the rain

 

 

 

Music by Harry Warren,  Lyrics by Al Dubin.

The song was published in 1937. It was introduced by James Melton in the film Melody for Two.

 

And how could I forget – Happy Birthday Fats Navarro – one of the best trumpet players of all time. Just listen to how he pops those notes and then bends the tone – what a combination of power and finesse!

I can’t help it –  just one more – here’s the genuine  article – wonderful Dutch Dyke Pia Beck  with her version of ‘September in the Rain’ followed by ‘If it Takes Forever.’

To my ear Pia’s syncopated piano style shares many elements with the late great Erroll Garner, especially with the bass, and maybe some Oscar Peterson.  Pia’s sense of timing is simply superb – it is no mean feat to comp one’s self this way – and  I think the only other singer/piano player who can do it as well is the incredible Brazilian Tania Maria.  Clapping on the off-beat marks some of those people in the club are obvious jazz fans – I wonder if this is Pia’s own club. She and her partner Marga were together from 1950 to Marga’s death on June 1 of 2009 – 59 years! They had lived together in Southern Spain since 1965. Pia died a few months later on November 26th 2009. She released a book The Touch of my Life in 2000 and a dvd The Touch of her Life in 2003 (?), Unfortunately neither of these is currently available in the U.S, though the audio cd Pia Beck 50 Years is available through Amazon.

Pia Beck in 1964

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In lieu of an image of Propertius – for none appears to exist – this lovely butterfly Erynnis Propertius  stands in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propertius Book III. 25: 1-18

Risus eram positis inter convivia mensis,
et de me poterat quilibet esse loquax.
quinque tibi potui servire fideliter annos:
ungue meam morso saepe querere fidem.
nil moveor lacrimis: ista sum captus ab arte;
semper ab insidiis, Cynthia, flere soles.
flebo ego discedens, sed fletum iniuria vincit:
tu bene conveniens non sinis ire iugum.
limina iam nostris valeant lacrimantia verbis,
nec tamen irata ianua fracta manu.
at te celatis aetas gravis urgeat annis,
et veniat formae ruga sinistra tuae!
vellere tum cupias albos a stirpe capillos,
iam speculo rugas increpitante tibi,
exclusa inque vicem fastus patiare superbos,
et quae fecisti facta queraris anus!
has tibi fatalis cecinit mea pagina diras:
eventum formae disce timere tuae!

 

 

 

Sextus Aurelius Propertius, circa 50-45 b.c to circa 15 b.c)

 

 

 

 

 

When they deride me among themselves at the banquet table,
Where the vilest of them gossip, bandying my name about.
You’ll recall those five devoted years of my faithful service,
And chewing your nails, often regret my loss.
Your tears won’t move me, for tears it was ensnared me,
Cynthia – you who never weep but to deceive.
I’ll weep as I depart, though injury exceeds mere grieving,
For the yoke you placed upon my back was never easy.
Farewell threshold, still lamenting my resolution,
The door which suffered no battering at my hand in anger – goodbye as well.
May age bear down on you with all the years you’ve been concealing,
And cruel lines overtake your former loveliness.
May you then wrench your grey hairs by their roots,
And the mirror boldly mock your many wrinkles.
May you in your turn suffer rejection from the haughty,
And when you’re turned to an old woman, may you regret your deeds!
With these dark imprecations my poem will mark you,
And teach you to dread the power your beauty had to wield

 

 

 

 

 

Version derived by Dia Tsung from various English translations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oda.

Menos veces te baten las cerradas
ventanas ya mancebos porfiados,
ni te rompen el sueño , y desvelados
no traen así alteradas

tus vecinas; y tú, que los umbrales
solícita y los quicios fatigabas,
menos ya, menos oyes las aldabas,

duermes, Liscica, o lloras envidiosa,
la memoria ocupando en las porfías
luengas de los rivales que traías
en guerra peligrosa.

Y vieja, y sola ya, cuando la luna
descrece más o el cefiro más crece,
cuando te enciende Venus y enfurece,
acusas importuna

los mozos, que desprecian con enfado
rosas que desmayó una tarde fría,
y de las que hoy apenas abrió el día
se coronan de grado.

 

 

 

Francesco de Medrano (1570?-1607?) Was a former Jesuit, who died at the age of 37, and whose poems were published posthumously.

 

 

 

 

Ode.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Less frequent now the rapping on your shuttered
windows by the insistence of importunate swains:
Neither is your sleep disrupted, nor you made wakeful
by their vexations thus conveyed

 

to your neighbours and you, by those whom your threshold
tirelessly accosted, wearing out the hinges on your door.
Now wait listening for the knocks that come less and less often
and with nocturnal senses

sleep, Liscisia, or cry with regret
at the memory of nights filled with the insistent
brawls of rivals whom you compelled
to perilous conflict.

 

And you already a solitary old woman when the moon wanes
more, or the winds of spring grow stronger,
when Venus inflames  and infuriates you,
they will provoke your ire,

when the lads maddeningly disdain
the roses made faint by evening’s chill,
and then proceed to crown themselves to high degree
with those that scarcely opened in the day.

 

 

 

 

 

Translation Dia Tsung.

 

 

 

 

I always  feel a little stab of happiness when my mind rummages into its trunk of forgotten treasures and unexpectedly presents to me the disparate things it has managed to  find and cobble together by its own devices.

Many years ago I had idly scribbled my version of Propertius 3.25, from line 9 onwards, and stuck it in an old folder.  Since then I had given away my copy of Propertius, and I had forgotten about the poem.

Sometime this week I was reading some Spanish poetry when I came across a poem by Francisco Medrano which sounded strangely familiar.

Of course when the connection  came to me, I had to go in search of a lost scrap of paper.  When after much rummaging I was able to track it down,  I discovered that I had made no reference notes to help me find down the original poem! Nor did it help that I had not written the first eight lines.

I found the original poem after many hours spent searching the internet, and I was finally able to put the two poems together, and the two translations together and this is the result.

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Katherine Mansfield

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can never forget the Thistle Hotel. I can never forget that strange winter night.

I had asked her to dine with me, and then go to the Opera. My room was opposite hers. She said she would come but – could I lace up her evening bodice, it was hooks at the back. Very well.

It was still daylight when I knocked at her door and entered. In her petticoat bodice and a full silk petticoat she was washing, sponging her face and neck. She said she was finished and I might sit on the bed and wait for her. So I looked round at the dreary room. The one filthy window faced the street. She could see the choked dust-grimed window of a wash-house opposite. For furniture the room contained a low bed, draped with revolting, yellow, vine-patterned curtains, a chair, a wardrobe with a piece of cracked mirror attached, a washstand. But the wallpaper hurt me physically. It hung in tattered strips from the wall. In its less discoloured and faded patches, I could trace the pattern of roses – buds and flowers – and the frieze was a conventional design of birds, of what genus the good God alone knows.

And this was where she lived. I watched her curiously. She was pulling on long, thin stockings, and saying ‘damn’ when she could not find her suspenders. And I felt within me a certainty that nothing beautiful could ever happen in that room, and for her I felt contempt, a little tolerance, a very little pity.

A dull, grey light hovered over everything; it seemed to accentuate the thin tawdriness of her clothes, the squalor of her life, she, too, looked dull and grey and tired. And I sat on the bed, and thought ‘Come, this Old Age. I have forgotten passion. I have been left behind in the beautiful golden procession of Youth. Now I am seeing life in the dressing room of the theatre.’

So we dined somewhere and went to the Opera. It was late, when we came out into the crowded night street, late and cold. She gathered up her long skirts. Silently we walked back to the Thistle Hotel, down the white pathway fringed with beautiful golden lilies, up the amethyst shadowed staircase.

Was Youth dead? … Was Youth dead?

She told me as we walked along the corridor to her room that she was glad the night had come. I did not ask why. I was glad, too. It seemed a secret between us. So I went with her into her room to undo those troublesome hooks. She lit a little candle on an enamel bracket. The light filled the room with darkness. Like a sleepy child she slipped out of her frock and then, suddenly, turned to me and flung her arms round my neck. Every bird upon the bulging frieze broke into song. Every rose upon the tattered paper budded and formed into blossom. Yes, even the green vine upon the bed curtains wreathed itself into strange chaplets and garlands, twined round us in a leafy embrace, held us with a thousand clinging tendrils.

And Youth was not dead.

 

Images from the movie Room in Rome directed by Julio Medem.

 

 

It is hard to believe that Mansfield wrote this astonishingly precocious and sophisticated little story in 1907, at the unbelievably young age of 19!  One has to overlook the few and very small mis-steps it contains, because under the powerful spell of this seamlessly compelling narrative, they tend to go unnoticed. It is impossible to stop the succession of potent and insistent images that seem to spring up with each line – and each interiorised and avidly described moment.

The perfectly captured blandness and world-weariness, and the sense of tedium and nothing-much expected, would hardly be questioned in someone several years older – and it emphatically attests to Mansfield’s  ability to inject an alter ego into a ‘mise en scène’  and persona of  her own devising, within which she evokes a time and place and condition which is utterly removed from what one could expect to be that of an ordinary, sheltered, bourgeois, turn-of-the century colonial girl of such tender years.

Mansfield would only live another 16 years after this little opus – she died when she was just 34 years old –  but before that she changed forever the way our minds grasp and follow the slender thread of extraordinary ordinariness through the progress of a story.

The Thistle Inn circa 1843

The Thistle Inn, on lower Mulgrave Street,  in Mansfield’s ‘Leves Amores’  was a real location, situated close to Wellington Harbour in New Zealand

Here is the link to the site  of Ishtar Films that features clips from two short movies – one by Kate Chopin, ‘The Story of an Hour’, and another, ‘The Thistle Hotel’.

‘The Thistle Hotel is based on Mansfield’s ‘Leves Amores’

http://www.ishtarfilms.com/page3.htm

And here is a little  poem by Arthur Symons published in 1921 called …………’Leves Amores’!  I don’t know what to make of the coincidence – Did Mansfield somehow read Symon’s poem before 1907? Or was Symonds  somehow able to read Mansfield’s story and take it for his inspiration?

There is no record (that I could find) of the two ever having met. Mansfield’s ‘Leves Amores’ was found among the papers of her former Oxford schoolmate Vere Bartrick Baker, and published in 1988  in the appendix of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Mansfield  A Secret Life.

I don’t know if I shall ever find the solution to this little mystery,  but if someone else does, I would like to know it!

Leves Amores

The Thistle Inn in 1951

Your kisses, and the way you curl,

Delicious and distracting girl,

Into one’s arms, and round about,

Inextricably in and out,

Twining luxuriously, as twine

The clasping tangles of the vine;

So loving to be loved, so gay

And greedy for our holiday;

Strong to embrace and long to kiss,

And strenuous for the sharper bliss,

A little tossing sea of sighs,

.......and today

Till the slow calm seal up your eyes.

And then how prettily you sleep!

You nestle close and let me keep

My straying fingers in the nest

Of your warm comfortable breast;

And as I dream, lying awake,

Of sleep well wasted for your sake,

I feel the very pulse and heat

Of your young life-blood beat, and beat

With mine; and you are mine; my sweet!

Arthur Symons (1865-1945)

Katherine Mansfield

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Depiction of Bernart de Ventadorn ( 1130 - ?)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I see the lark beat his wings
for joy against the sun’s ray,
until he forgets to fly and plummets down,
for the sheer delight which goes to his heart,
alas, great envy comes to me
of those whom I see filled with happiness,
and I marvel that my heart
does not instantly melt from desire.

Alas, I thought I knew so much about love,
and really I know so little,
for I cannot keep myself from loving her
from whom I shall have no favor.
She has stolen from me my heart, myself,
herself, and all the world.
When she took herself from me, she left me nothing
but desire and a longing heart.

Never have I been in control of myself
or even belonged to myself from the hour
that she let me gaze into her eyes-
that mirror that pleases me so greatly.
Mirror, since I saw myself reflected in you,
deep sighs have been killing me.
I have lost myself, just as
handsome Narcissus lost himself in the fountain.

I despair of women,
no more will I trust them,
and just as I used to defend them,
now I shall denounce them.
Since I see that none aids me
against her who destroys and confounds me,
I fear and distrust them all
for I know well they are all alike.

In this my lady certainly shows herself
to be a woman, and for it I reproach her,
for she wants not that which one ought to want,
and what is forbidden, she does.
I have fallen out of favor
and have behaved like the fool on the bridge;
and I don’t know why it happened
except because I tried to climb too high.

Mercy is lost, in truth,
though I never received it,
for she who should possess it most
has none, so where shall I seek it?
Ah, one who sees her would scarcely guess
that she just leaves this passionate wretch
(who will have no good without her)
to die, and gives no aid.

Since with my lady neither prayers nor mercy
nor my rights avail me,
and since she is not pleased
that I love her, I will never speak of it to her again.
Thus I part from her, and leave;
she has killed me, and by death I respond,
since she does not retain me, I depart,
wretched, into exile, I don’t know where.

Tristan, you will have nothing from me,
for I depart, wretched, I don’t know where.
I quit and leave off singing
and withdraw from joy and love.

Can vei la lauzeta mover
de joi sas alas contra.l rai,
que s’oblid’ e.s laissa chazer
per la doussor c’al cor li vai,
ai! tan grans enveya m’en ve
de cui qu’eu veya jauzion,
meravilhas ai, car desse
lo cor de desirer no.m fon.

Ai las! tan cuidava saber
d’amor, e tan petit en sai,
car eu d’amar no.m posc tener
celeis don ja pro non aurai.
Tout m’a mo cor, e tout m’a me,
e se mezeis e tot lo mon;
e can se.m tolc, no.m laisset re
mas dezirer e cor volon.

Anc non agui de me poder
ni no fui meus de l’or’ en sai
que.m laisset en sos olhs vezer
en un miralh que mout me plai.
Miralhs, pus me mirei en te,
m’an mort li sospir de preon,
c’aissi.m perdei com perdet se
lo bels Narcisus en la fon.

De las domnas me desesper
ja mais en lor no.m fiarai;
c’aissi com las solh chaptener,
enaissi las deschaptenrai.
Pois vei c’una pro no m’en te
vas leis que.m destrui e.m cofon
totas las dopt’e las mescre,
car be sai c’atretals se son.

D’aisso’s fa be femna parer
ma domna, per qu’e.lh o retrai,
car no vol so c’om deu voler,
e so c’om li deveda, fai.
Chazutz sui en mala merce,
et ai be fai co.l fols en pon;
e no sai per que m’esdeve,
mas car trop puyei contra mon.

Pus ab midons no.m pot valer
precs ni merces ni.l dreiz qu’eu ai,
ni a leis no ven a plazer
qu’eu l’am, ja mais no.lh o dirai,
Aissi.m part de leis e.m recre;
mort m’a, e per mort li respon,
e vau m’en, pus ilh no.m rete,
chaitius, en issilh, no sai on.

 

 

 

 

 

The forty-five or so surviving poems of the most famous of the troubadours, Bernart de Ventadorn, were written in a language known as Oc or Occitan, which was the language used in an area  known in the middle ages as Occitania and   was widely spoken in parts of France, Spain and Italy.  It was also known as ‘Lenga d’ òc, and today its closest living relative is Catalan.  Relatives of the language of ‘Oc’ are the language of ‘Si’ – Spanish and Italian –  and the language of ‘Oil’ – French. All three syllables are variants of the English ‘Yes’.

Place names like Languedoc and Aquitaine, the demesne of Eleanor, Bernart’s queen, pertain to the region in which this language held currency.  It was the language of the troubadours and trobairises.

Bernart de Ventadorn was born sometime between 1110 and 1130. It is said he was the son of of a baker, but it is possible that he was the son of the Count Eble the Monseignur of Ventadorn.  He attended the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine, and there is no doubt that some of his songs were dedicated to her.

In an age of harshness and brutality, where sentiment  as we know it in our modern sense did not exist, and refinement was almost unknown, Bernart’s  songs and poems must have seemed unearthly in their strangeness and beauty. Here a lament for unattainable love is inspired by the joyous flight of the little bird who heralds the dawning day.

In Bernart’s poem of unrequited love and yearning and we can see the first evidence in Europen poetry of the formation

The Languedoc region

of a kind of self awareness of internal states and indeed an inner life which is intensely personal. This nuanced contemplation almost makes visible the process by which human emotions seem to emerge out of the awakening psyche and  assume a life of their own.  His voice is unique and personal,  and quite free of the stodginess we associate with medieval writing

A thousand years have gone by since his voice was heard, but most of  Bernart’s poetry (over 40 poems) as well as his music (about 18 compositions)  has come down to us through the ages, miraculously surviving the horrifying destruction wrought by the the virulently  anti-humanistic Catholic church.  Along with the destruction of the Albigensians and other inhabitants of the Oc who were burned alive for their religious and spiritual beliefs,  many troubadours were destroyed in the flames as well.

Bernart himself spent the latter part of his life in a kind of self-imposed exile, ending his life in obscurity.

Out of the ruins of that brutal age now buried in the darkness of a thousand years, still blooms this flower of music and poetry, to speak to our hearts directly and shower us with delight even to this very day.

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Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

Shakespeare – The Tempest, Act III

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is my favourite quote from Shakespeare.  So many people have written about it and built on it, including Robert Browning, with his rather exhausting poem “Caliban upon Setebos” which is a long-winded dig at Victorian religiosity and pride. But in my view Caliban’s situation should not be used to as a platform for satire.  It should always be permitted to be itself and to stand for itself and for its own implications.  In my view there is something quite sacred and magical in this poem, so that I feel afraid to touch it in any way that is not delicate and loving. The way the tenses twine around themselves serves to show me how disorienting beauty can be. One should I think simply feel its magic,  and I would just like to leave it at that.

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Katherine Mansfield circa 1913

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It should surprise no one that Virginia Woolf wrote to Katherine Mansfield of her writing “You seem to me to go so straightly and directly – all clear as glass – refined, spiritual…“, and that after Mansfield’s death at the age of thirty-four in 1923 Woolf wrote in her diary that Mansfield’s was “The only writing I have ever been jealous of.”

Mansfield’s writing is indeed worthy of attracting the invidious attention of a literary luminary  of Woolf’s calibre.  Mansfield originated and developed the style that is now referred to as ‘Modernist’  It was a complete and radical change from all that had gone before, and both she and Woolf broke away entirely from  the heavily upholstered mannerisms of Edwardian writing to develop and refine a genre that indelibly shaped something that we recognise today in the heart and structure of the contemporary novel. It is difficult to even imagine that the lives of Woolf and Mansfield overlapped that of Henry James, (who died in 1916 and whom Woolf met as a child) when we compare the long-winded, top-heavy, unstable sentences of his prose with the light but mordant intensity of Woolf’s and Mansfield’s fictional touch. James’ solemn style is like walking through a labyrinth whereas Mansfield’s and Woolf’s are like chasing fireflies in a meadow.

Today we read novels without ever finding it unnatural that the narrative does not progress as a solid structure that is built from the foundations up. Our reading minds are now thoroughly accustomed to finding ourselves  being informed moment-to-moment, as we follow a sequence of unfolding moments, and we unresistingly allow ourselves to absorb the deepening sense of what a story reveals in the fragments the writer chooses to deploy and employ.  By these often subtle means is  our perception itself altered, and the ordinary mundaneness of reality is quite swept away, such that we seem to be seeing the world through  the perspective of strange and unaccustomed eyes.

Dorothy Richardson

Dorothy Richardson, whose story “Pointed Roofs”  was published in 1915, was the first English writer to pioneer the then strange writing technique we now know so familiarly as ‘Stream of Consciousness’ but which Richardson

referred to as “Interior Monologues”. It is an enduring shame that Richardson, (who lived an unrelievedly impecunious life and died much the same way in 1957) never received her proper due for

the innovation that Woolf and Mansfied so famously exploited and perfected.  In my view, Mansfield’s and Woolf’s finessed deployment of Richardson’s early invention, their brilliantly improvised non-linearity and their adamant refusal to tell rather than show, is a very female characteristic of female writerly perception.  It is a perception that seizes upon the story as an artifact of intuited wholeness,  and then presents it impressionistically to the reader in its carefully sorted out selection of constituent moments. Last but not least, it is quite blessedly free of the ponderous intrusions of male authorial voice.

Woolf, who was six years older, admired Mansfield’s “fierce” dedication, and when Hogarth Press was established, it was Mansfield’s work (“The Aloe”) they first solicited. Mansfield and Woolf first met around nineteen- seventeen, and on that occasion, the literary blue-blood Woolf looked askance at the colonial (New Zealander) Mansfield who was the daughter of a banker, and Woolf professed herself as being“A little shocked at her commonness at first sight. However, when this diminishes, she is so intelligent and inscrutable that she repays friendship.” Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband, was to say of Mansfield, “By nature I think, she was gay, cynical, amoral, ribald, witty. When we first knew her, she was extraordinarily amusing. I don’t think anyone has ever made me laugh more than she did in those days

Virginia Woolf

And what a boon to the world this friendship of ardent rivals has been! It was a friendship of mutually high regard and admiration, each for the literary virtuosity of the other. If their association had not been attenuated by Mansfield’s ill-health (consumption), which necessitated her living in a milder climate, followed by her tragic and untimely death in 1923, the world might have seen the skills of both writers exploding in a shower of brilliant sparks to illuminate a literary form advanced to a degree we can now only imagine. It seems certain that Mansfield’s style of writing influenced Woolf’s  most famous  – and luminous – novels, beginning with Jacob’s Room in 1922 , Mrs. Dalloway 1925 and To the Lighthouse 1927.

Certainly the two spurred each other to develop and refine their art. Mansfield confessed to Woolf that “You are the only woman with whom I long to talk work. There will never be another.” She wrote to Woolf saying, ” My God I love to think of you, Virginia, as my friend. Don’t cry me an ardent creature or say, with your head a little on one side, smiling as though you knew some enchanting secret: ‘Well Katherine, we shall see’…  But pray consider how rare it is to find some one with the same passion for writing that you have, who desires to be scrupulously truthful with you –  and to give you the freedom of the city without any reserves at all.”

After Mansfield’s death in 1923, Woolf declared “I have a feeling that I shall think of her at intervals all through life.”  Woolf also said  rather ruefully that there was “no point in writing anymore…. Katherine won’t read it. Katherine’s my rival no longer.” And eight years later in 1931, Woolf was still dreaming of her.  Somewhat earlier she had told her sister Vanessa Bell her (Woolf”s) “jealousy …. is only a film on the surface beneath which is nothing but pure generosity”.

“Bliss” published in 1920, is one among Mansfield’s most famous short-stories. It takes place over a very short space of time –  the passage of a single evening – and is told from the perspective of a young woman. I sometimes wonder if Woolf may have not have got the idea of the compressed time-frame she used in Mrs. Dalloway from this story, as well as perhaps from Mansfield’s other enduring literary gem “The Garden Party,”  both of which unfold between a morning and evening.

My guess about the enduring popularity of “Bliss” is not just that it represents a high-water-mark of modernist writing, nor that its young subject is a softly glowing little jewel displayed to her best advantage in a the perfect psychological setting, though both these facts are beyond dispute; my guess is that it is because, everyone who reads this story instantly recognises and vicariously experiences Mansfield’s detailed and highly accurate description of  the giddily exhilarating experience we refer to as ‘falling in love’.

A poet like Robert Graves may write  “Love is universal migraine/A bright stain on the vision/ Blotting out reason/… Listening for a knock,/Waiting for a sign/ For the touch of her fingers/ In a Darkened room/ For a searching look…. ” * But the whole charming process is just as susceptible to a somewhat more clinical analysis, an analysis that echoes perfectly and uncannily the details in “Bliss” of Bertha’s coup de foudre.

Mansfield ( top left) and her siblings.

Some time around 1977, the psychologist  Dorothy Tennov coined the term ‘limerence’ to refer to the highly particularised  constellation of ‘symptoms’ associated with what we describe in the vernacular as  falling in love. In 1979 she wrote and published a book based on her research entitled Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love.  The term ‘limerence’ is used to describe  ‘an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction to another person…. acute longing for reciprocation…. unsettling shyness in the limerent object’s presence….  intensified through adversity, obstacles, or distance…. acute sensitivity to any act, thought, or condition (in the limerant) that can be interpreted favorably…. a tendency to devise, fabricate, or invent reasonable explanations for why neutral actions are a sign of hidden passion in the limerent object….(having) a general intensity of feeling that leaves other concerns in the background…. tending to emphasize what is admirable in the limerent object and to avoid any negative or problematic attributes….during the height of limerence (having)  thoughts of the limerent object (that) are at once persistent, involuntary and intrusive…. (when)  all events, associations, stimuli, and experiences return thoughts to the limerent object with unnerving consistency… a more intrusive thinking pattern… this thinking pattern is an expectant and often joyous period with the initial focusing on the limerent object’s admirable qualities… crystalisation…. (when), under appropriate conditions of hope and uncertainty, the limerence intensifies further….with evidence of reciprocation (real or imagined)… a state of extreme pleasure, even euphoria, is enjoyed. thoughts are mainly occupied with considering and reconsidering what is attractive in the limerent object, replaying whatever events may have thus far transpired with the limerent object, and appreciating personal qualities perceived as possibly having sparked interest in the limerent object….and at peak crystallization, almost all waking thoughts revolve around the limerent object’ and so on.

Bertha’s shimmering stream of ardent and exited thoughts at the intoxicating prospect of having within her reach in the beautiful and enigmatic Pearl the thing she so desperately and urgently longs for, catches exactly the slightly manic admixture of acute hope and fear and anticipatory dread-tinged euphoria of limerence.  Tennov’s research suggests that the period of limerence can last up to three years, but in “Bliss” Bertha’s supernova ignites and explodes in a matter of days. Mansfield’s  fast-paced, almost breathless speed of narration adds to this story its aura of hectic excited urgency.

Of course in her short-story “Bliss” Mansfield does not restrict herself to a single concern, but ranges over the whole constellation of complex social and personal matters as well. Her writing shimmers and dazzles us with her ironic pitch-perfect command of the affected dialogue of the arty set thirty-year-old Bertha (the same age as Mansfield

when she published the story) has invited to dine. Bertha’s relationship with her husband Harry is dealt with obliquely and revealingly in a few deft strokes, as is Harry’s flippantly sardonic character. We absorb the details of Bertha’s domestic situation: the relationship she has with her baby’s bossy

Ida Baker

Nanny whose predominant tone with Bertha is one of asperity. We know Bertha chafes with the sense of ‘untouchedness’ and claustrophobia that her body “has been shut up like a rare, rare fiddle.”

We sense the urgency that she feels – of an unplayed instrument – an unsung song.  We get the feel of the  interior of her house, and her sudden invitation of its chilliness, and the familiar beauty of  her household objects: the easy carelessness with which she instantly enlivens a room by merely flinging the cushions around and  the studied care with which she arranges the fruit on the table. We sense the freighted manner in which her sense of beauty deepens and sharpens as the day goes on, and we are infected by her barely-contained anticipation of the evenings’ promise, and the interminable build-up to something which now feels like a powerful under-current pulling her into the depths away from the dull and predictable shoreline. She expects it will be vivid and new and yet in some way also culminal. We can almost glimpse the glitter in her eyes and the dilation of her pupils….

Lillian Faderman in her book Chloe plus Olivia: An Anthology of Lesbian Literature from the Seventeenth Century to the Present  refers to Mansfield’s subtle treatment of lesbianism, and reveals that despite her marriages to men and her several affairs with them, Mansfield had several relationships with women. Faderman has deftly sorted through much of the biographical material now available on Mansfield to reveal several facts about her erotic life and her relationships with women, which were for many years  kept hidden or glossed over. Faderman in her introduction to “Bliss” reveals that Mansfield, like many women of that era, (Virginia Woolf, Elizabeth Bowen,

Mansfield’s and Murry’s ‘wedding’ photograph’ with D.H. Lawrence and his wife Frieda von Richthofen.

Daphne Du Maurier,Vita Sackville West, Hilda Doolittle and others) was highly ambivalent about her sexuality.  Faderman points out the not so very surprising fact that Mansfield wrote “Bliss” while still trailing behind her the vague entanglements of her marriage with Middleton Murry, even as she was living in France with Ida Baker who  selflessly and faithfully loved and cared for Mansfield throughout her adult life.

Mansfield’s  sapphic attachments began in boarding school, when she fell vibrantly and confusingly in love with a Maori Princess. When she was eighteen, and about to become engaged to a musician by the

Edith Bendall

name of Arnold Trowell, she fell in love with a woman, Edie Bendall.  Faderman quotes from Mansfield’s diary: “Caesar (Trowell) is losing hold of me. Edie is waiting for me. I shall slip into her arms, They are safest. Do you love me?” And  “Last night I spent in her arms – and to-night I hate her – which , being interpreted, means that I adore her: that I cannot lie in my bed and not feel the magic of her body: which means that sex means as nothing to me. I feel more powerfully  all those so-termed sexual impulses with her than I have felt with any man. She enthralls, enslaves me – and her personal self – her body absolute – is my worship. I feel that to lie with my head on her breast is to feel that life can hold….   In my life – so much Love in imagination; in reality 18 barren years – never pure spontaneous affectionate impulse. Adonis was – dare I seek in the heart of me – nothing but a pose. And now she comes – and pillowed against her, clinging to her hands, her face against mine, I am a child, a woman, and more than half a man.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Middleton Murry

Mansfield’s self-torment over her refusal – or inability –  to heed and respect, or even simply to come to terms with the valid importunities and demands of her sexual orientation and sexuality, continued to plague her for the rest of her life.

Through a strange coincidence, Hogarth press, which was owned and run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, and which first published Mansfield’s  short story “The Aloe” (later re-named “Prelude”) was the first publisher (beginning in 1921) of Freud’s work in English. Freud’s vociferations about female sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, (now emphatically dismissed as specious and misguided) were then beginning to gain serious currency in the intellectual circles of the day. It seems to me to be more than just a little likely that when Freud’s poisonous theories were permitted to leach and seep from the toxic containment of his private speculations into the collective mind of unsuspecting English society, they may have steeped the susceptible soil of Mansfield’s thinking. If so, she was one of the earliest of the hundreds upon thousands of casualties of what I refer to as the Freudian inquisition. It might be interesting to speculate about how much of Mansfield’s sexual self-rejection had its roots in Freud’s pernicious theorising. It is clear that Mansfield was aware at a very early age of the divisions within herself.  At the end of Mansfiled’s short story
“The Aloe”/ “Prelude”,  there is a striking and unforgettable paragraph where one of the characters, Beryl, becomes aware that the reason for the central hollowness of her life is that she is compelled to inhabit her ‘false’ (social/external) self, while her ‘real’ self remains hidden and suppressed.

George Bowden

Mansfield’s first marriage in 1909 was to  George Bowden, a singing teacher eleven years her senior – which is perhaps one of the briefest marriages on record, since it endured for less than day. Ida Baker accompanied her to the registry where the marriage took place. On the evening of the wedding, she ran straight back to Baker who had been her lover since 1903 when they first met at Queen’s College Oxford and Mansfield said to Baker “Let’s be friends.”

In 1918 when she was about thirty years old  Mansfield embarked upon her second marital disaster, her marriage to John Middleton Murry whom she had known since 1911. It was a marriage in which the two spend more time apart than together. She expressed her views about the two of them this way: “We are both abnormal. I have too much vitality and you have not enough.”  It is difficult to imagine why Mansfield married the feckless and ineffectual Murray, who gave her neither the emotional support she wanted nor the financial support she needed throughout her difficult illness and her unremitting search for a suitable home in a climate that her fragile health could tolerate, nor could Murry’s tight-fisted parsimony and his numerous affairs have done Mansfield any good. Her wedding photograph shows her standing between her fellow consumptive the writer D.H. Lawrence (who would later refer to her as “a loathsome reptile”) and his wife Frieda Richthofen, with whom  Middleton Murry would later have an affair. Murry stands on the far left next to Frieda. Claire Tomalin, in her biography of Mansfield  A Secret Life  plausibly suggests that it was probably in 1913, while she and Murry lived briefly with Lawrence and his wife Frieda in Cornwall, that Mansfield probably contracted the disease that would kill her ten years later.

The staircase at the Priory at Fontainbleau

Baker’s and Mansfield’s relationship continued apace after her sporadic marriage with Middleton Murry during which she tried various arrangements to divide herself between the two. One of those arrangements was for her to have lived half the year with Middleton Murry and the other half with Baker. Mansfield’s health was not sufficiently robust to permit her exposure to the inclemencies  of the English climate, so she and Baker continued living together in France. Baker nursed Mansfield during much of her final illness despite Mansfield’s less than admirable treatment of her to whom she said “I am simply unworthy of friendship as I am. I take advantage of you – demand perfection of you – crush you – And the devil of it is that even though that is true as I write it I want to laugh.” Before Mansfield died she wrote to Baker “Try and believe and keep on believing without signs from me that I do love you and want you for my wife.”

During the previous three months, beginning on October 18th 1922, Mansfield had been living at the Priory at Fontainbleau (presided over by G.I. Gurdjieff). It was here that she died of a haemorrhage following a coughing fit on the staircase on her way to bed at 10:30 at night on January the 9th. She was thirty-four, years old, and she had been suffering since 1913 from the tuberculosis which finally finished her off.  Mansfield was buried on January 11th in the cemetery at Fontainbleau in Avon France. When Middleton Murry forgot to pay for the funeral, her remains were disinterred and subsequently moved by the authourities to a pauper’s (some say a communal) grave. When Mansfield’s father Harold Beauchamp learned of this indignity in 1929, he had her grave moved to its present location in the main cemetery.

Mansfield’s  favourite quotation which she had chosen for the title page of Bliss and Other Stories  was from Shakespeare’s Henry IV part one – “… out of this nettle danger, we pluck the flower safety.”  It was said to be the epitaph on her gravestones, but photographs of the grave stone show no such inscription.  Mansfield’s last words were “I love the rain.  I want the feeling of it on my face.” We can still marvel – and find much to admire in the fact that she did her most prolific writing despite being in the grip of a fatal illness, in the final years of her life.

*Robert Graves  ‘Signs of Love’

This gloomy ending to Mansfield’s life prompts me to insert, as a sort of ameliorating amendment, some photographs I might suppose to have been extracted from Bertha’s album, and which might serve to reassure us that she did not make the same mistakes as Mansfield, and that she went on to have the kind of future presaged by the blossoms of her lovely little pear tree.

From The Album:

Bertha, a few months before her marriage to Harry

The week before the engagement

The afternoon of the party…

Pearl aged 18 posing for a fashion photograph

Pearl: Publicity Shot.

Mr. and Mrs. Norman Knight at their wedding

Bertha in her mid-thirties

Bertha’s girlfriend Vivian Demmer.

Bertha in her late thirties, in a portrait commissioned by Viv

Bertha’s younger sister Coleen, who introduced her to Vivian

Those vexing pear blossoms….

Pearl in her early forties.

Coleen’s Dutch girlfriend Annelise

Bertha dressed up for a night at ‘Le Monocle’

Bertha’s and Coleen’s friend Deirdre de Vos

Andrea Hunter Deirdre’s girlfriend

The Norman Knights on a bridge night with Harry and Pearl

Little B and her dog Bluey

Viv’s dog Handy

Bertha’s dog Honey

Colleen and Annelises’ dog Virgie

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Katherine Beauchamp Mansfield (October 14th 1888 - January 9th 1923)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at–nothing–at nothing, simply.

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss–absolute bliss!–as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe? . . .

Oh, is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly” ? How idiotic civilisation is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

“No, that about the fiddle is not quite what I mean,” she thought, running up the steps and feeling in her bag for the key–she’d forgotten it, as usual–and rattling the letter-box. “It’s not what I mean, because–Thank you, Mary”–she went into the hall. “Is nurse back?”

“Yes, M’m.”

“And has the fruit come?”

“Yes, M’m. Everything’s come.”

“Bring the fruit up to the dining-room, will you? I’ll arrange it before I go upstairs.”

It was dusky in the dining-room and quite chilly. But all the same Bertha threw off her coat; she could not bear the tight clasp of it another moment, and the cold air fell on her arms.

But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place–that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror–but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big, dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something . . . divine to happen . . . that she knew must happen . . . infallibly.

Mary brought in the fruit on a tray and with it a glass bowl, and a blue dish, very lovely, with a strange sheen on it as though it had been dipped in milk.

“Shall I turn on the light, M’m?”

“No, thank you. I can see quite well.”

There were tangerines and apples stained with strawberry pink. Some yellow pears, smooth as silk, some white grapes covered with a silver bloom and a big cluster of purple ones. These last she had [Page 118]  bought to tone in with the new dining-room carpet. Yes, that did sound rather far-fetched and absurd, but it was really why she had bought them. She had thought in the shop: “I must have some purple ones to bring the carpet up to the table.” And it had seemed quite sense at the time.

When she had finished with them and had made two pyramids of these bright round shapes, she stood away from the table to get the effect–and it really was most curious. For the dark table seemed to melt into the dusky light and the glass dish and the blue bowl to float in the air. This, of course, in her present mood, was so incredibly beautiful….  She began to laugh.

“No, no. I’m getting hysterical.” And she seized her bag and coat and ran upstairs to the nursery.
Nurse sat at a low table giving Little B her supper after her bath. The baby had on a white flannel gown and a blue woollen jacket, and her dark, fine hair was brushed up into a funny little peak. She looked up when she saw her mother and began to jump.

“Now, my lovey, eat it up like a good girl,” said nurse, setting her lips in a way that Bertha knew, and that meant she had come into the nursery at another wrong moment.

“Has she been good, Nanny?”

“She’s been a little sweet all the afternoon,” whispered Nanny. “We went to the park and I sat down on a chair and took her out of the pram and a big dog came along and put its head on my knee and she clutched its ear, tugged it. Oh, you should have seen her.”

Bertha wanted to ask if it wasn’t rather dangerous to let her clutch at a strange dog’s ear. But she did not dare to. She stood watching them, her hands by her side, like the poor little girl in front of the rich girl with the doll.

The baby looked up at her again, stared, and then smiled so charmingly that Bertha couldn’t help crying:

“Oh, Nanny, do let me finish giving her her supper while you put the bath things away.

“Well, M’m, she oughtn’t to be changed hands while she’s eating,” said Nanny, still whispering. “It unsettles her; it’s very likely to upset her.”

How absurd it was. Why have a baby if it has to be kept–not in a case like a rare, rare fiddle–but in another woman’s arms?

“Oh, I must!” said she.

Very offended, Nanny handed her over.

“Now, don’t excite her after her supper. You know you do, M’m. And I have such a time with her after!”

Thank heaven! Nanny went out of the room with the bath towels.

“Now I’ve got you to myself, my little precious,” said Bertha, as the baby leaned against her.

She ate delightfully, holding up her lips for the spoon and then waving her hands. Sometimes she wouldn’t let the spoon go; and sometimes, just as Bertha had filled it, she waved it away to the four winds.

When the soup was finished Bertha turned round to the fire. “You’re nice–you’re very nice!” said she, kissing her warm baby. “I’m fond of you. I like you.”

And indeed, she loved Little B so much–her neck as she bent forward, her exquisite toes as they shone transparent in the firelight–that all her feeling of bliss came back again, and again she didn’t know how to express it–what to do with it.

“You’re wanted on the telephone,” said Nanny, coming back in triumph and seizing her Little B.
Down she flew. It was Harry.

“Oh, is that you, Ber? Look here. I’ll be late. I’ll take a taxi and come along as quickly as I can, but get dinner put back ten minutes–will you? All right?”

“Yes, perfectly. Oh, Harry!”

“Yes?”

What had she to say? She’d nothing to say. She only wanted to get in touch with him for a moment. She couldn’t absurdly cry: “Hasn’t it been a divine day!”

“What is it?” rapped out the little voice.

“Nothing. Entendu,” said Bertha, and hung up the receiver, thinking how much more than idiotic civilisation was.
They had people coming to dinner. The Norman Knights–a very sound couple–he was about to start a theatre, and she was awfully keen on interior decoration, a young man, Eddie Warren, who had just published a little book of poems and whom everybody was asking to dine, and a “find” of Bertha’s called Pearl Fulton. What Miss Fulton did, Bertha didn’t know. They had met at the club and Bertha had fallen in love with her, as she always did fall in love with beautiful women who had something strange about them.

The provoking thing was that, though they had been about together and met a number of times and really talked, Bertha couldn’t make her out. Up to a certain point Miss Fulton was rarely, wonderfully frank, but the certain point was there, and beyond that she would not go.

Was there anything beyond it? Harry said “No.” Voted her dullish, and “cold like all blonde women, with a touch, perhaps, of anaemia of the brain.” But Bertha wouldn’t agree with him; not yet, at any rate.

“No, the way she has of sitting with her head a little on one side, and smiling, has something behind it, Harry, and I must find out what that something is.”

“Most likely it’s a good stomach,” answered Harry.

He made a point of catching Bertha’s heels with replies of that kind . . . “liver frozen, my dear girl,” or “pure flatulence,” or “kidney disease,” . . . and so on. For some strange reason Bertha liked this, and almost admired it in him very much.

She went into the drawing-room and lighted the fire; then, picking up the cushions, one by one, that Mary had disposed so carefully, she threw them back on to the chairs and the couches. That made all the difference; the room came alive at once. As she was about to throw the last one she surprised herself by suddenly hugging it to her, passionately, passionately. But it did not put out the fire in her bosom. Oh, on the contrary!

The windows of the drawing-room opened on to a balcony overlooking the garden. At the far end, against the wall, there was a tall, slender pear tree in fullest, richest bloom; it stood perfect, as though becalmed against the jade-green sky. Bertha couldn’t help feeling, even from this distance, that it had not a single bud or a faded petal. Down below, in the garden beds, the red and yellow tulips, heavy with flowers, seemed to lean upon the dusk. A grey cat, dragging its belly, crept across the lawn, and a black one, its shadow, trailed after. The sight of them, so intent and so quick, gave Bertha a curious shiver.

“What creepy things cats are!” she stammered, and she turned away from the window and began walking up and down. . . .

How strong the jonquils smelled in the warm room. Too strong? Oh, no. And yet, as though overcome, she flung down on a couch and pressed her hands to her eyes.

“I’m too happy–too happy!” she murmured.

And she seemed to see on her eyelids the lovely pear tree with its wide open blossoms as a symbol of her own life.

Really–really–she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever, and they got on together splendidly and were really good pals. She had an adorable baby. They didn’t have to worry about money. They had this absolutely satisfactory house and garden. And friends–modern, thrilling friends, writers and painters and poets or people keen on social questions–just the kind of friends they wanted. And then there were books, and there was music, and she had found a wonderful little dressmaker, and they were going abroad in the summer, and their new cook made the most superb omelettes. . . .

“I’m absurd. Absurd!” She sat up; but she felt quite dizzy, quite drunk. It must have been the spring.

Yes, it was the spring. Now she was so tired she could not drag herself upstairs to dress.

A white dress, a string of jade beads, green shoes and stockings. It wasn’t intentional. She had thought of this scheme hours before she stood at the drawing-room window.

Her petals rustled softly into the hall, and she kissed Mrs. Norman Knight, who was taking off the most amusing orange coat with a procession of black monkeys round the hem and up the fronts.

” . . . Why! Why! Why is the middle-class so stodgy–so utterly without a sense of humour! My dear, it’s only by a

Rue Katherine Mansfield at Fontainbleau

fluke that I am here at all–Norman being the protective fluke. For my darling monkeys so upset the train that it rose to a man and simply ate me with its eyes. Didn’t laugh–wasn’t amused–that I should have loved. No, just stared–and bored me through and through.”

“But the cream of it was,” said Norman, pressing a large tortoiseshell-rimmed monocle into his eye, “you don’t mind me telling this, Face, do you?” (In their home and among their friends they called each other Face and Mug.) “The cream of it was when she, being full fed, turned to the woman beside her and said: ‘Haven’t you ever seen a monkey before?'”

“Oh, yes!” Mrs. Norman Knight joined in the laughter. “Wasn’t that too absolutely creamy?”

And a funnier thing still was that now her coat was off she did look like a very intelligent monkey– who had even made that yellow silk dress out of scraped banana skins. And her amber ear-rings: they were like little dangling nuts.

Mansfield at the Villa Isola Bella

“This is a sad, sad fall!” said Mug, pausing in front of Little B’s perambulator. “When the perambulator comes into the hall–” and he waved the rest of the quotation away.

The bell rang. It was lean, pale Eddie Warren (as usual) in a state of acute distress.

“It is the right house, isn’t it?” he pleaded.

“Oh, I think so–I hope so,” said Bertha brightly.

“I have had such a dreadful experience with a taxi-man; he was most sinister. I couldn’t get him to stop. The more I knocked and called the faster he went. And in the moonlight this bizarre figure with the flattened head crouching over the lit-tle wheel . . . ”

He shuddered, taking off an immense white silk scarf. Bertha noticed that his socks were white, too–most charming.

“But how dreadful!” she cried.

“Yes, it really was,” said Eddie, following her into the drawing-room. “I saw myself driving through Eternity in a timeless taxi.”

He knew the Norman Knights. In fact, he was going to write a play for N.K. when the theatre scheme came off.

“Well, Warren, how’s the play?” said Norman Knight, dropping his monocle and giving his eye a moment in which to rise to the surface before it was screwed down again.

And Mrs. Norman Knight: “Oh, Mr. Warren, what happy socks?”

Katherine Mansfield in 1913

“I am so glad you like them,” said he, staring at his feet. “They seem to have got so much whiter since the moon rose.” And he turned his lean sorrowful young face to Bertha. “There is a moon, you know.”

She wanted to cry: “I am sure there is–often–often!”

He really was a most attractive person. But so was Face, crouched before the fire in her banana skins, and so was Mug, smoking a cigarette and saying as he flicked the ash: “Why doth the bridegroom tarry?”

“There he is, now.”

Bang went the front door open and shut. Harry shouted: “Hullo, you people. Down in five minutes.” And they heard him swarm up the stairs. Bertha couldn’t help smiling; she knew how he loved doing things at high pressure. What, after all, did an extra five minutes matter? But he would pretend to himself that they mattered beyond measure. And then he would make a great point of coming into the drawing-room, extravagantly cool and collected.

Harry had such a zest for life. Oh, how she appreciated it in him. And his passion for fighting–for seeking in everything that came up against him another test of his power and of his courage–that, too, she understood. Even when it made him just occasionally, to other people, who didn’t know him well, a little ridiculous perhaps. . . . For there were moments when he rushed into battle where no battle was. . . . She talked and laughed and positively forgot until he had come in (just as she had imagined) that Pearl Fulton had not turned up.

“I wonder if Miss Fulton has forgotten?”

“I expect so,” said Harry. “Is she on the ‘phone?”

Katherine Mansfield aged ten.

“Ah! There’s a taxi, now.” And Bertha smiled with that little air of proprietorship that she always assumed while her women finds were new and mysterious. “She lives in taxis.”

“She’ll run to fat if she does,” said Harry coolly, ringing the bell for dinner. “Frightful danger for blonde women.”

“Harry–don’t!” warned Bertha, laughing up at him.

Came another tiny moment, while they waited, laughing and talking, just a trifle too much at their ease, a trifle too unaware. And then Miss Fulton, all in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blonde hair, came in smiling, her head a little on one side.

“Am I late?”

“No, not at all,” said Bertha. “Come along.” And she took her arm and they moved into the dining-room.

What was there in the touch of that cool arm that could fan–fan–start blazing–blazing–the fire of bliss that Bertha did not know what to do with?

Miss Fulton did not look at her; but then she seldom did look at people directly. Her heavy eyelids lay upon her eyes and the strange half-smile came and went upon her lips as though she lived by listening rather than seeing. But Bertha knew, suddenly, as if the longest, most intimate look had passed between them–as if they had said to each other: “You too?”–that Pearl Fulton, stirring the beautiful red soup in the grey plate, was feeling just what she was feeling.

And the others? Face and Mug, Eddie and Harry, their spoons rising and falling–dabbing their lips with their napkins, crumbling bread, fiddling with the forks and glasses and talking.

“I met her at the Alpha show–the weirdest little person. She’d not only cut off her hair, but she seemed to have taken a dreadfully good snip off her legs and arms and her neck and her poor little nose as well.”

“Isn’t she very liée with Michael Oat?”

“The man who wrote Love in False Teeth?

“He wants to write a play for me. One act. One man. Decides to commit suicide. Gives all the reasons why he should and why he shouldn’t. And just as he has made up his mind either to do it or not to do it–curtain. Not half a bad idea.”

“What’s he going to call it–’Stomach Trouble’ ?”

“I think I’ve come across the same idea in a lit-tle French review, quite unknown in England.”

No, they didn’t share it. They were dears–dears–and she loved having them there, at her table, and giving them delicious food and wine. In fact, she longed to tell them how delightful they were, and what a decorative group they made, how they seemed to set one another off and how they reminded her of a play by Tchekof!

Harry was enjoying his dinner. It was part of his–well, not his nature, exactly, and certainly not his pose–his–something or other–to talk about food and to glory in his “shameless passion for the white flash of the lobster” and “the green of pistachio ices–green and cold like the eyelids of Egyptian dancers.”

When he looked up at her and said: “Bertha, this is a very admirable soufflée! ” she almost could have wept with child-like pleasure.

Oh, why did she feel so tender towards the whole world tonight? Everything was good–was right. All that happened

Katherine Mansfield's birthplace, the house at 25 Tinacori Road.

seemed to fill again her brimming cup of bliss.

And still, in the back of her mind, there was the pear tree. It would be silver now, in the light of poor dear Eddie’s moon, silver as Miss Fulton, who sat there turning a tangerine in her slender fingers that were so pale a light seemed to come from them.

What she simply couldn’t make out–what was miraculous– was how she should have guessed Miss Fulton’s mood so exactly and so instantly. For she never doubted for a moment that she was right, and yet what had she to go on? Less than nothing.

“I believe this does happen very, very rarely between women. Never between men,” thought Bertha. “But while I am making the coffee in the drawing-room perhaps she will ‘give a sign’ ”

What she meant by that she did not know, and what would happen after that she could not imagine.

While she thought like this she saw herself talking and laughing. She had to talk because of her desire to laugh.

“I must laugh or die.”

But when she noticed Face’s funny little habit of tucking something down the front of her bodice–as if she kept a tiny, secret hoard of nuts there, too–Bertha had to dig her nails into her hands–so as not to laugh too much.
It was over at last. And: “Come and see my new coffee machine,” said Bertha.

“We only have a new coffee machine once a fortnight,” said Harry. Face took her arm this time; Miss Fulton bent her head and followed after.

The fire had died down in the drawing-room to a red, flickering “nest of baby phoenixes,” said Face.

“Don’t turn up the light for a moment. It is so lovely.” And down she crouched by the fire again. She was always cold . . . “without her little red flannel jacket, of course,” thought Bertha.

At that moment Miss Fulton “gave the sign.”

“Have you a garden?” said the cool, sleepy voice.

This was so exquisite on her part that all Bertha could do was to obey. She crossed the room, pulled the curtains apart, and opened those long windows.

“There!” she breathed.

And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed–almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon.

How long did they stand there? Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?

For ever–for a moment? And did Miss Fulton murmur: “Yes. Just that.” Or did Bertha dream it?

Then the light was snapped on and Face made the coffee and Harry said: “My dear Mrs. Knight, don’t ask me about my baby. I never see her. I shan’t feel the slightest interest in her until she has a lover,” and Mug took his eye out of the conservatory for a moment and then put it under glass again and Eddie Warren drank his coffee and set down the cup with a face of anguish as though he had drunk and seen the spider.

“What I want to do is to give the young men a show. I believe London is simply teeming with first-chop, unwritten plays. What I want to say to ’em is: ‘Here’s the theatre. Fire ahead.'”

“You know, my dear, I am going to decorate a room for the Jacob Nathans. Oh, I am so tempted to do a fried-fish scheme, with the backs of the chairs shaped like frying-pans and lovely chip potatoes embroidered all over the curtains.”

“The trouble with our young writing men is that they are still too romantic. You can’t put out to sea without being seasick and wanting a basin. Well, why won’t they have the courage of those basins?”

“A dreadful poem about a girl who was violated by a beggar without a nose in a lit-tle wood. . . . ”

Miss Fulton sank into the lowest, deepest chair and Harry handed round the cigarettes.

From the way he stood in front of her shaking the silver box and saying abruptly: “Egyptian? Turkish? Virginian? They’re all mixed up,”  Bertha realised that she not only bored him; he really disliked her. And she decided from the way Miss Fulton said: “No, thank you, I won’t smoke,” that she felt it, too, and was hurt.

Katherine Mansfield 1908

“Oh, Harry, don’t dislike her. You are quite wrong about her. She’s wonderful, wonderful. And, besides, how can you feel so differently about someone who means so much to me. I shall try to tell you when we are in bed tonight what has been happening. What she and I have shared.”
At those last words something strange and almost terrifying darted into Bertha’s mind. And this something blind and smiling whispered to her: “Soon these people will go. The house will be quiet–quiet. The lights will be out. And you and he will be alone together in the dark room–the warm bed. . . . ”

She jumped up from her chair and ran over to the piano.

“What a pity someone does not play!” she cried. “What a pity somebody does not play.”

For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband. Oh, she’d loved him–she’d been in love with him, of course, in every other way, but just not in that way. And equally, of course, she’d understood that he was different. They’d discussed it so often. It had worried her dreadfully at first to find that she was so cold, but after a time it had not seemed to matter. They were so frank with each other–such good pals. That was the best of being modern.

But now–ardently! ardently! The word ached in her ardent body! Was this what that feeling of bliss had been leading up to? But then, then– “My dear,” said Mrs. Norman Knight, “you know our shame. We are the victims of time and train. We live in Hampstead. It’s been so nice.”

“I’ll come with you into the hall,” said Bertha. “I loved having you. But you must not miss the last train. That’s so awful, isn’t it?”

“Have a whisky, Knight, before you go?” called Harry.

“No, thanks, old chap.”

Bertha squeezed his hand for that as she shook it.

“Good night, good-bye,” she cried from the top step, feeling that this self of hers was taking leave of them for ever.

When she got back into the drawing-room the others were on the move.

” . . . Then you can come part of the way in my taxi.”

“I shall be so thankful not to have to face another drive alone after my dreadful experience.”

“You can get a taxi at the rank just at the end of the street. You won’t have to walk more than a few yards.”

“That’s a comfort. I’ll go and put on my coat.”

Miss Fulton moved towards the hall and Bertha was following when Harry almost pushed past.

“Let me help you.”

Bertha knew that he was repenting his rudeness–she let him go. What a boy he was in some ways–so impulsive–so–simple.

And Eddie and she were left by the fire.

“I wonder if you have seen Bilks’ new poem called Table d’Hôte,” said Eddie softly. “It’s so wonderful. In the last Anthology. Have you got a copy? I’d so like to show it to you. It begins with an incredibly beautiful line: ‘Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?'”

“Yes,” said Bertha. And she moved noiselessly to a table opposite the drawing-room door and Eddie glided noiselessly after her. She picked up the little book and gave it to him; they had not made a sound.

While he looked it up she turned her head towards the hall. And she saw . . . Harry with Miss Fulton’s coat in his arms and Miss Fulton with her back turned to him and her head bent. He tossed the coat away, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her violently to him. His lips said: “I adore you,” and Miss Fulton laid her moonbeam fingers on his cheeks and smiled her sleepy smile. Harry’s nostrils quivered; his lips curled back in a hideous grin while he whispered: “Tomorrow,” and with her eyelids Miss Fulton said: “Yes.”

“Here it is,” said Eddie. “‘Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?’ It’s so deeply true, don’t you feel? Tomato soup is so dreadfully eternal.”

“If you prefer,” said Harry’s voice, very loud, from the hall, “I can phone you a cab to come to the door.”

“Oh, no. It’s not necessary,” said Miss Fulton, and she came up to Bertha and gave her the slender fingers to hold.

“Good-bye. Thank you so much.”

“Good-bye,” said Bertha.

Miss Fulton held her hand a moment longer.

Pear tree in bloom

“Your lovely pear tree!” she murmured.

And then she was gone, with Eddie following, like the black cat following the grey cat.

“I’ll shut up shop,” said Harry, extravagantly cool and collected.

“Your lovely pear tree–pear tree–pear tree!”

Bertha simply ran over to the long windows.

“Oh, what is going to happen now?” she cried.

But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.

 

 

 

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