The Garden Party was frequently mentioned at uni – from what I can tell Katherine Mansfield is kind of unavoidable when you study British literature and translation (much to my delight). While I had tackled various translations of her beautiful prose before, I had never actually sat down and read one of her books from start to finish. But that was then, and this is now! I can now tell you all about her final masterpiece.
The Garden Party is a collection of short stories written by the British-New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield. It is the last collection that she wrote before dying of tuberculosis. Many of the stories take place in colonial New Zealand and touch upon themes such as family ties, emigration as well as social events and expectations.
I am not really a fan of short stories. I read a fair share of them in uni, such as Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find that I disliked so much that I could barely bring myself to turn the pages of the book! However, after translating several excerpts from The Garden Party (the collection, not the short story) into French, my curiosity was piqued. I remember discovering with awe a few sentences about an umbrella with a swan’s head handle that pecked mercilessly at a young character’s hand. I felt such relief and pride when I found a decent translation for the author’s words!
But this article is losing its sense of direction.
This was a very interesting collection that was well worth reading. I normally don’t enjoy short stores because I am frustrated by the lack of descriptions and character analysis, but that wasn’t the case here. The scenes were vivid, clear as water and sufficiently varied all the while sharing a sort of common core that I can’t quite put my finger on. The emotions conveyed were strong: I felt sheer fear for the little girl leaving her father behind to sail across the ocean with her grandmother, with no idea of when she would return. The poor woman who lost her dear grandson stole my heart, and the social commentary on her filthy employer was poised and deadly at the same time. Some characters stayed with me more than others – and I don’t think The Garden Party was my favourite story of the lot – but the whole book made me reflect on how talented a writer Katherine Mansfield was to allow her reader to feel such empathy for characters they have just met. I will definitely need to read some more of her work in the future!