The Garden-Party

Alumna, Katherine Mansfield
Alumna, Katherine Mansfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Katherine Mansfield (1888–1923), @ 13 pages (1922).

There’s nothing like a good cry in the morning. Wretched. How wretched!

There are so many things about this story that I just love—for example, the way we are lead into the story. We begin with an opinion on the weather, then ponder the flowers that people are most likely to recognize. When we meet our first character we are transported from the outside world into the home. We learn more about the plot and the characters when we are given insights into how each character feels about participating in the setup of the party. When we learn that one doesn’t want to be part of that action, we move to another, who also will not be involved. Finally, we meet the character who will take charge, Laura, and we follow her out of the house and into the garden.

My grandmother used to throw garden parties, so this story transports me back to those days and to thoughts of her. This line, especially, made me think of her:

“Oh impossible. Fancy cream puffs so soon after breakfast. The very idea made one shudder. All the same, two minutes later Jose and Laura were licking their fingers with that absorbed inward look that only comes from whipped cream.”

Ah, the good life.

And that’s just it. Right outside their massive estate, poverty is just down the lane.

Another reason I like this story is because of its contrasts. Rich, poor. Happiness, sadness. Joy, grief. An man is killed just down the road. The family is practically a neighbor of his widow and five children. Laura asks the question, should we really go ahead with the party?

“‘But, my dear child, use your common sense. It’s only by accident we’ve heard of it. If some one had died there normally—and I can’t understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes—we should still be having our party, shouldn’t we?'”

It’s funny (weird) how we can explain things away in order to get what we want.

To her credit Laura does push back and gets this response:

“‘You’re being very absurd, Laura,” she said coldly. ‘People like that don’t expect sacrifices from us. And it’s not very sympathetic to spoil everybody’s enjoyment as you’re doing now.'”

Upping the stakes, after the party, Laura’s mother has the splendid idea of sending the leftovers to the widow and her children. I won’t spoil the whole story, but I thought this was a wonderful touch by the author.

Well done Katherine Mansfield. I want to read more from you!

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