Katherine Mansfield's Spirituality
Katherine Mansfield's writing struck me as having surprising detailed sexualized imagery embeded within her short stories. In her short story "Prelude," Mansfield describes Linda's dream of her father and herself wandering in a field. When her father "bent down and parted the grasses and showed her a tiny ball of fluff," (a bird) Linda is elated. Strangely enough, "As she stroked it began to swell, it ruffled and pouched, it grew bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at her....It had become a baby with a big naked head and a gaping bird-mouth" (89). Just a few paragraphs later in "Prelude" Mansfield describes Linda relaxing lazily in bed in the morning before breakfast, tracing the wallpaper with her finger. She describes the poppy printed wallpaper as "a leaf and a stem and a fat bursting bud," (91) imagery which by itself may be unremarkable. When combined with further description of "the sticky, silky petals, the stem, hairy like a gooseberry skin, the rough leaf and the tight glazed bud" (91) the imagery seems extremely sexual in nature! Katherine Mansfield's character Bertha is not immune to this passion which seems to burn inside the Mansfield characters from "Prelude." In Mansfield's story "Bliss," Bertha is unable to extinguish the "fire in her bosom" (148) for all the world! Bertha is practically unable to curb "the fire of bliss" (151) she feels when she takes Miss Fulton's arm to lead her to dinner. Finally, as Bertha and Miss Fulton stand admiring the garden by moonlight, Bertha imagines her tree beginning 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" (153). Incidentally I immediately noticed that the moon is traditionally a celestial being closely associated with women and fertility.
Constantia has an almost religious experience with the moon in Katherine Mansfield's story "The Daughters of the Late Colonel." She blames the moon for her bizarre behavior as she lay naked on the floor as if she had been crucified. Strangely enough, Mansfield also mentions Constantia's Buddha. The mixture of this spiritual imagery is confusing and yet almost devotional.
Katherine Mansfield also seems very aware of other-worldly spirits in her writing. In "Prelude" Kezia is so frightened by "IT" she is unable to leave her empty house before her sister comes looking for her. Linda also seems very aware of the unearthly presence of "THEY." Both presences, "IT" and "THEY," seem omniscient and ever present. This spiritual theme seems present in all of Katherine Mansfield's stories.
Cats seem to be a connecting theme in several of Mansfield's stories. In "Bliss" Bertha pronounces cats "creepy things" (148) even in the midst of her blissful passion for life. In the final lines of "Bliss" Bertha describes her guests Eddie and Miss Fulton as leaving her home "like the black cat following the grey cat" (155). She uses this reference directly after she discovers her husband is having an affair with Miss Fulton (a woman Bertha seems to be uncontrollably attracted to herself!) In "Prelude" Kezia imagines that "hundreds of black cats with bright yellow eyes sat in the sky watching her - but she was not frightened" (87). While some ancient civilizations revered cats as ancient and all knowing souls, often endowed with the power of omniscience, there are also many cultures which hold cats as a bad omen. Black cats are often thought to be bad luck to passers by, and cats are also thought to be closely associated with witches. Along the same vein, cats were thought to be helpers sent from the devil himself to assist witches here on earth (coincidentally these witches were usually women.)
Katherine Mansfield seems to be a highly spiritual woman, with no real focused direction for her overabundant spirituality. She seems to waver between celebrating sexuality and celebrating simply the sexuality of woman. She seems unable to decide which religion is the more suitable for her and instead inserts snippets of various religions into her stories like babies’ breath in a floral arrangement. She obviously has a sense of history and love of folk-lore which borders on religious! Her dogged inclusion of spirituality in all it's forms, and her presentation of "IT" and "THEY" in "Prelude" lead me to believe that she believes that spirituality in all its many divine forms is omnipresent. Her stories are all laced with equal amounts of mysticism, making them all equally compelling and enthralling. Such deep and impactfull writing is a joy to read and comment on.