From major to minor: critical (mis)interpretation in the fiction of Katherine Mansfield

Gerri Kimber

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


The ‘Decadent Era’ in France, spanning the period between the Commune of 1871 and the Great War, has come to represent a specific literary period, out of whose complexities was to emerge much of twentieth century European Modernism. This literary climate of innovation allowed experimental writers like Katherine Mansfield, now viewed as one of the main innovators of the Modernist short story, to flourish. For many years after her death, critics commonly placed Mansfield as a minor writer, dealing in a delicate, feminine way with the domestic aspects of life – the literary equivalent of painters such as Berthe Morisot and Mary Cassatt with whom her work was often compared. By contrast, in this essay, I aim to reveal Mansfield as an innovator, a Modernist and a feminist. Her own unique form of Modernism was not derivative of other contemporary writers, but was in fact a product of her symbiosis of late nineteenth century techniques and themes, for the most part introduced through her reading of Arthur Symons, the dominant ‘critical voice’ in her formative early years. In this essay I take one of Mansfield’s stories and reveal its covert fin-de-siècle and decadent imagery, together with its theme of sexual ambiguity, at the same time exposing its Baudelairean influences, demonstrating how all these factors enabled her to find a way of extending the boundaries of her own prose expression
Original languageEnglish
Journal2001 Group French Studies E-Journal: Critical Voices
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2008


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