My story draw this week for the Deal Me In challenge is the 8 of Diamonds – Katherine Mansfield’s 1918 story “Bliss”. Mansfield was a New Zealand author who published many short stories before her death at 34 from extra-pulmonary tuberculosis. She was a friend to both Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence and lived something of a bohemian lifestyle. Her later years saw her pursuing more and more unorthodox and experimental treatments for her tuberculosis. “Bliss” is one of the last stories she wrote before she died.
“Bliss” is rather a strange story. It exists in the intersection of a character study and a domestic drama. For all but perhaps the last page of it, Bertha – a name quite chic at the time – is overflowing with energy and joy. It is Spring, and she is overcome by both the beauty of the burgeoning world around her and the intensity of her own feelings. She loves her baby daughter, her husband, her friends, her home and garden, the sun and the flowers. She is on the verge of giddiness and feels drunk.
Bertha hosts a dinner party, with Mr. and Mrs. Knight (a theater manager and his wife, who is a quirky interior designer and Bertha’s closest friend,) Warren (a young writer) and Miss Fulton (a blonde with whom Bertha is infatuated.) Bertha believes Miss Fulton shares her Springtime sentiments, and it is clear to the reader that Bertha is falling in love with the enigmatic young woman.
The story is almost overwhelming in its portrayal of Bertha’s enthusiasms. Mansfield has a wonderful way with metaphor and descriptive language, and she allows Bertha to think metaphorically and floridly, as well. As the end of the story drew near, I began to suspect that things were a bit too good to be true, and of course they were.
I can’t really give more of the plot than this without spoiling the twist. So I will simply recommend “Bliss” as a delightful bit of prose with some very interesting and unusual characters and very skillful description of the protagonist’s inner world. This story seems as if it might have been a bit shocking in its day – at least some of the aspects that are subtly obfuscated yet still undeniably hinted at.
The story is available for free online on its own at East of the Web or as part of the 1920 collection Bliss, and Other Stories, available freely and legally at Many Books (and other sites offering public domain literature.)