Katherine Mansfield And Sexuality

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One of the themes that can be found in the stories of Katherine Mansfield centres upon the role, status, sexuality, and "place" of women in society. According to Chantal Cornut-Gentille d'Arcy, "Mansfield's succinct narratives … are triumphs of style, a style which challenged the conventional parameters of nineteenth-century realism, constrained to plot, sequential development, climax, and conclusion" (244). More specifically, maintains that "even though Mansfield never acknowledged any profound engagement with Freudian approaches to sexuality or psychic disorder … Mansfield moved in a context which undoubtedly indicates she was aware of Freud's ideas and discoveries" (245). This is evident in ‘Life of Ma Parker', which describes the life of a widowed charwoman who has experienced nothing more than tragedy throughout her life and who most recently has had the horrible task of burying her loving little grandson (Lohafer 475). Ma Parker is written by Mansfield from both a Freudian psychological and a sociological perspective. Susan Lohafer characterises the story as "a spare iconography of working-class life that makes the story a perfect set-piece for cultural studies" (475). In the story, an aging charwoman must not only cope with the death of her grandson, she must also deal with the fact that she has no place to go where she can be by herself and give way to her grief. Nothing that she has achieved in her entire working life has resulted in the acquisition of such a private place. Instead, she has buried her husband, a baker who died of "white lung disease" and those children who survived the high rate of infant mortality fell victim to other ills of the late-Victorian underclass: immigration, prostitution, poor hea... ... middle of paper ... ...so often written off as the ‘mob'" (247). Thus, Bertha's feelings are likely to be regarded by her husband – should he have noticed – as inappropriate and as lacking in dignity and propriety. In this manner, Mansfield established some key information about the society in which she lived and the ways that it valued and positioned women. Mansfield clearly rejected the notion that women should be ‘secondary' in status to men, but she also recognised that this was not the general view of society. She also seems to have recognised that women's lives – in the case of Ma Parker as well as Bertha Young – were shaped and informed by force that the women had little control over. Women therefore emerge in these stories as frustrated, as victims and as unable to control their own destinies. Mansfield's psychological understanding of these issues distinguishes her writing.
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