Bachelor of Arts
Katherine Mansfield, Prelude, Women, Fiction
Katherine Mansfield's contribution to modern British fiction has been virtually ignored in recent years; the two major periods of critical attention to her work were in the 1920's (right after her death) and the early 1950's. Critics of both groups have given extensive consideration to Mansfield's experimentation--independent of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce--with interior monologue, shifting narrative perspective and moments of revelation However, analyses of Mansfield have predominantly ignored her concerns as a woman writer. Mansfield examines women's roles and women's sexuality in nearly all of her stories; she probes women's circumstances from their own perspective and shows the effect of the male on the female world.
Mansfield's development as an exponent of women's concerns is a subject well worth critical attention. For a full appreciation of her artistic achievement this development must be seen in relation to the refinement of her technique. I would argue that it is not until the story "Prelude," approximately one-third of the way through her canon, that Mansfield cultivates the aesthetic sophistication necessary for a rounded portrayal of womanhood. Her earliest stories, particularly the German Pension stories, are crudely rendered. They have neither the depth of characterization nor the subtlety of style necessary to uphold their ambitious theme. "Prelude" is a pivotal work in Mansfield's career. In this I piece she presents a community of women stratified by age and class investigating their sexuality, struggling with the role of women in a world controlled by men. The contrasts of age and class fuse "Prelude" into a sort of compressed bildungsroman: each segment of the life-cycle is revealed, but the simultaneous presentation highlights the relationships among the stages. The stylistic devices of interior monologue, a shifting narrative point of view and intricate patterns of imagery entwine the women's lives and draw together the threads of Mansfield's earlier stories in an artistically successful, poetic piece. Further, "Prelude" paves the way for Mansfield's later, successful stories. The stylistic techniques of "Prelude" are carried over into later works as is the theme of communities of women shaped by men, and the issue of rebellion versus stultification.
Orenstein, Peggy, "A Synthesis of Theme and Style: "Prelude" as a Turning Point in the Fiction of Katherine Mansfield" (1983). Honors Papers. 644.