Stereotypes in Katherine Mansfield's "In a German Pension"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3




1. Introduction

2. Analyzing her Short Stories
2.1 “Germans at Meat”
2.2 “The Swing of the Pendulum”
2.3 “The-Child-Who-Was-Tired”
2.4 “At Lehmann's”
2.5 “The Sister of the Baroness”
2.6 “Frau Fischer”
2.7 The Modern Soul
2.8 “Frau Brechenmacher attends a Wedding”

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This research paper is concerned with the image of stereotypes in selected short stories of Katherine Mansfield. Especially the German stereotype in In a German Pension will be analyzed.

According to the New Zealand Electronic Text Centre, “The characters and contexts of the stories are in fact entirely European, set firmly in the cultural and political environment of pre-World War I Europe“[1]. This quote summarizes what is important to know, before analyzing the short stories.

“In a German Pension“ is Mansfield's first published work of fiction (published in 1911) and takes place in a enviroment that Mansfield has visited herself. She does not value most of the stereotypes she imputes to her characters, but because of her special way of carrying it to the extremes, she manages to convey her views about German stereotypes to the reader. These views will be analyzed later on. By repeating these stereotypes in the different short stories in this collection, they become especially apparent and shift into the centre of the discussion.

Even if Mansfield herself feels ashamed of her work, which she has written in her younger years, it is definitely an important piece of literature, speaking of German stereotypes.

2. Analyzing her Short Stories

2.1 “Germans at Meat”

This is the first story of her book In a German Pension and one recognizes directly the German names between the English words, which makes them stick out. Some of the stereotypes are noticeable even after reading the first lines and are summarized best in the following quote:

“The German characters are gross and corporeal, constantly eating, perspiring and discussing their ailments“[2].

The “cold blue eyes“ of Herr Rat or his preference for sauerkraut (“I eat sauerkraut with great pleasure“) let one assume that this could be a German person, even if his nationality is not yet mentioned. It is the same for Fraulein Stiegelauer (the owner of the pension). She seems not to have proper table manners (picking her teeth with a hair pin in front of all other guests), courteousness (being impolite towards the first-person narrator without noticing it) but in return she has nine children, something that is characteristical of German Woman, especially around World War I: „The Germans are very enthusiastic about families — “Germany … is the home of the Family“[3].

She loves meat and solid food and blames the narrator for being vegetarian and not knowing her husband's favourite meat and seems to be the role model of the Angel in the House [4] with motherly charm. She represents the typical German Woman, not very beautiful (wears a hair knot) but short tempered. She pretends to watch her health and explains how she planned her day. She seems to be overweight (a stereotype of German women that is found very often in the short stories is that they are overweight) and, as the narrator mentions, eats a lot, almost too much, of the fruits (apricots) that are important for her health, as she claims. But in reality “The clientele consisted mainly of overfed bourgeois“[5].

Herr Rat seems to have a distinctive sense of appreciation for order and timing and plans his complete day and night. It is very important for him not to miss a part of his “Kur“.

“This morning I took a half bath. Then this afternoon I must take a knee bath and an arm bath," volunteered the Herr Rat; "then I do my exercises for an hour, and my work is over“.

Mansfield also mentions 'Munchen', this city is widely regarded as the centre of Germany. It seems to be the city that represents Germany best (even if most of the Germans themselves would deny that). It appears striking that it is always Bavaria that is used to represent Germany: „But you MUST go to Munchen. You have not seen Germany if you have not been to Munchen“.

Herr Hoffmann appears to be the next German without any table manners (“he wiped his neck and face with his napkin and carefully cleaned his ears”) and of course, the conversation must end up in a discussion of war with an arrogant comment of the German man (“We don't want England. If we did we would have had her long ago. We really do not want you”). He seems to represent the German type that is always interested in war and discussing the status of his and the other's army and chances when war breaks out. Of course his country, Germany, is the superior one and he does not notice that he is very impolite towards his English listener, while making fun of their military possibilities.

The Germans in this story seem to have strong opinions about the English and England and are demonstrated to be anti-feminist and not emancipated (especially Fraulein Stiegelauer):

“There now, you see, that's what you're coming to! Who ever heard of having children upon vegetables? It is not possible. But you never have large families in England now; I suppose you are too busy with your suffragetting“.

They are tactless and almost arrogant (even if they do not recognize it) and eat a lot instead of paying heed to the health and figure (put always pretend to eat because of their health).

2.2 “The Swing of the Pendulum”

The “Swing of the Pendulum“ is the thirteenth chapter of In a German Pension. It is concerned with the relationship of an unmarried couple[6], a subject that first appears here and is an important plot, even if it is only the sub-plot. In In a German Pension, Germans are represented to be fixed on rules and obey commandments of religion and so far, a young woman must have a husband instead of a unmarried affair (compare to “Frau Brechenmacher attends a Wedding“).

We do not know if Viola is a German woman or if she just has a German name (there is no accent visible) and furthermore the same applies for her (probably) German “darling“ named Casimir, who does not appear physically. The strange man who is visiting her was actually searching for a Fraulein Schafer, but If he is a German remains unclear, because we do not find out his name. According to the way Mansfield describes these two characters, which have the same behaviour like the other Germans in the stories, they probably are Germans and support the image of a German, according to Mansfield.

The anonymous stranger probably is a German, because he fulfills the former, established pattern of a German man. He seems to be very rude and possessive. He treats Viola like a little child who has to obey. This unknown man is totally disrespectful and he enjoys himself tremendously, but in contrast looks like a fine gentleman.

But in the end he turns out to be a coward instead of a tough guy. Even if he does not tell about his numerous body functions, he seems to belong to the German group in this collection and is represented as a fine looking brute and Viola as the little silly and not as a typical housewife who knows her husband's favourite meat.

According to Moore, the rude man of this story is based on one Katherine Mansfield had met in her own life[7], so this rude and brutal behaviour must not be meant as solely typical German. She is, at the beginning, very material and interested in her beauty and wealth, a little bit hypochondriac and addicted to attention. She is the opposite of Fraulein Schafer or the mother in “The-Child-Who-Was-Tired”. Viola is very erratic, like the swing of the Pendulum that swings from one side to the other, she changes her view towards Casimir very rapidly. Still, it remains unclear where she comes from. Maybe she also is a German, that would be a clever move of Katherine Mansfield, because she can thusly show, that in her opinion, there is a another group of a typical German woman. Maybe she differs between young, unmarried woman like Viola or older motherly types like Fraulein Schafer and so shows the usual development of the women.

If we rank Viola among the Germans, one can conclude that (young) German women are d rama queens, material, always fascinated by theirself, don't want to work and love to flirt with other men, by using their charms, without being shy (but in return very moody).

Halter concludes it as follows:

“Unter der dünnen Kruste der Zivilisation kommt hier eine Beziehung zwischen ann und Frau zum Vorschein, die die Frau wiederum als ein unter der männlichen Rücksichtslosigkeit und Brutalität leidendes Geschöpf zeigt. [...] Die brutale Zudringlichkeit des Mannes führt dann beim Mädchen in einem weiteren Stimmungsumschlag zu einem neuerlichen Sehnen nach dem Geliebten“[8]

2.3 “The-Child-Who-Was-Tired”

The father in this story is strongly evocative of the stranger in The Swing of the Pendulum. Here, we can see the future image of this young gentleman. The father is aggressive, disrespectful and not interested in the familie's good. He lets his family call him master and insists on obedience, like the stranger in the first story forces Viola to kiss him and to sit on his knees. And his wife is not very different. She beats her children with twigs and bears one child after another.

This story shows the stereotype of a hard working, poor family, with hard German education. There is no real childhood and every child has to grow-up very fast. Love between each of the persons involved can not be found, what supports the image of the rude German.

The sauerkraut and potatoes that were mentioned before in chapter one (Germans at meat) are once again representative for German food.

Also typical for former European lifestyle is child labour. Even if the child in this story is working in the household she lives in, one would talk about child labour and exploitation. This child (who-was-tired) is tortured and forced to work until exhaustion and lacks any kind of school education. Because of the more and more new born babies, she does not even have a future chance for a recreation.

From todays prospect, the family reminds of a typical German family around the times of War. There is not enough bread or place to sleep for everybody, almost everything is totally negative, even the terrible history of the Child-Who-Was-Tired is ignored, they even talk bad about it while the child is in the room next door, able to hear them. The family seems to be unkindly and inhuman (maybe because of the bad living conditions) and dislikable for the reader.

The Blame for the end of this story is to be given to the parents and not to the child. This kind of childhood can be the reason for the later behaviour, maybe this story shows an explanation for the different behaviour of the German characters, something like the prehistory, the explanation why they have became the way they are (the adults in the other stories).

2.4 “At Lehmann's”

Katherine Mansfield seems to have a fondness for strange and brutal men in her short stories. Once again, it is not clear of which nationality the man in this story is.

He is aggressive and besets the innocent young woman Sabina, forces her to kiss him and enjoys himself by making fun of her. He first appears to be a gentleman, like the other men before him (The Swing of the Pendulum).


[1] New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

[2] New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

[3] New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

[4] The 'Angel in the House' is the Victorian image of a well behaved housewife whose aim is to please her husband and to put back her own needs.

[5] Alpers p.97

[6] Dada-Büchel p.129

[7] Moore p.53

[8] Halter p.96

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Stereotypes in Katherine Mansfield's "In a German Pension"
Ruhr-University of Bochum  (Anglistik)
National & Ethnic Stereotypes
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Short, Story, Stories, in, a, german, persion, Stereotypes, Katherine, Mansfield, Germans, at, Meat, The, Swing, of, Pedulum, Child, who, was, tired, Lehmann's, Sister, Baroness, Fischer, Modern, Soul, Brechenmacher, Wedding
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2008, Stereotypes in Katherine Mansfield's "In a German Pension", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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