Do you think a reading experience is enhanced when the book in hand is nicely designed? Nice weight, nice size, creamy pages and simply attractive to look at? In this case the packaging doesn't quite rival the contents, but it certainly makes for a pleasurable experience. I'm going to continue on with my short story reading on Sundays with The Persephone Book of Short Stories, I've decided. It's just too good and I'm enjoying the stories too much to set it aside.
This week's story, "The Black Cap", is by Katherine Mansfield and was published in 1917. For a long time now I've been fascinated by Katherine Mansfield and someday (who knows maybe even this year) I am going to read Claire Tomalin's biography of her. Back in 2007 I read her Journal, which was published posthumously by her husband (I wrote about it here, here and here). A few years later I picked up the thread to read one of her more famous short stories, and here a few more years later she crops up again in another short story anthology. She's not an author to be ignored!
Her Journal is not really a proper daily journal but fragments of her writing--bits and pieces of dialogue or short story ideas, letters, diary entries and such collected and organized into one volume. I see that at the time I was reading it was a disorienting experience as I didn't know much about Mansfield's life. It's a book I would like to revisit someday. Some of the things I remember from my meanderings of her life and work are the run-ins she had with Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf, while an author I hugely admire, was a formidable woman and one I think I would not have liked to cross paths with in real life. Katherine Mansfield was one of the very few (only?) writers who Woolf admired and respected (or am I imagining that--I suspect there was something of a rivalry there between them--maybe it was jealousy and not admiration).
Mansfield died of tuberculosis when she was only 34 (which makes you wonder what she might have accomplished and achieved had she lived a longer life). I remember in my reading that just before she died she had been feeling as though her health had improved and to show it had run up a flight of stairs, but it caused her to suffer an embolism which resulted in her death. (So this last bit might not be wholly accurate, but ultimately the tuberculosis ended her life early).
"The Black Cap" would have been one of her earlier stories and shows how much can be conveyed in so few words. The story is quite short, made up partially of dialogue and and the thoughts in a woman's mind as she progresses from unhappiness in her marriage, realization of the possible repercussions of an affair based on superficial passions, to, if not contentment, then at least an appreciation of her situation after all.
A lady and her husband are having breakfast. His nose in a newspaper, she tries to talk to him, but it's obvious his mind is elsewhere and you wonder just what he's hearing. Not what his wife is asking for certain.
She: Oh, if you should want your flannel shirts, they are on the right-hand bottom shelf of the linen press.
He: (at a board meeting of the Meat Export Company). No.
She: You didn't hear what I said. I said if you should want your flannel shirts, they are on the right-hand bottom shelf of the linen press.
He: (positively). I quite agree!
She: It does seem rather extraordinary that on the very morning that I am going away you cannot leave the newspaper alone for five minutes.
How many wives or girlfriends have had that sort of conversation with their significant other? She leaves under the ruse of a dentist's appointment, only to meet her lover. But something will make her reassess her choice. Of a sudden she sees the potential ridiculousness of what she's planning on doing, not just of the situation but of her choice of lovers.
The story is clever and amusing and an example of the genius of Katherine Mansfield! By the way, Katherine Mansfield just recently (on the 9th of January, only last week) passed the 90th anniversary of her death. There was an interesting article about her (and short stories in general) in The Independent worth reading.
Next week a story by Pauline Smith, an entirely new to me author, who was a close friend of Arnold Bennett. I'm looking forward to it already.