Mansfield's "Prelude" to a new era: On the development of a narrative structure

Term Paper, 2003

16 Pages, Grade: 2,0




2.Textual Genesis

3.Point of View: From “Auktorial” to “Personal”
3.1.Mansfield’s Innovation
3.2.Multipersonal View
3.3.Free Indirect Discourse and Contamination6-

4.”Epiphany” and “Glimpses”

5. “The Aloe” vs. “Prelude”


7.Selected Bibliography

1. Introduction

Katherine Mansfield is a genius among the writers of the early 20th century and her work should not only be paid particular attention due to her credit for feminist literature; her work paved a way for all aspects of contemporary writing. The first ‘innovation’ she introduced was her choice of narrative form: the short story. It was not that the short story became her invention, but writing novels was still more fashionable, at least among Anglo-Saxon authors (Ganzmann 1985, 1-3). Yet, it is not purely by reason of her motivation to leave Victorian traditions behind that she preferred this form. Mansfield was destined to live a short life, thus, it fell to her lot to write short stories.[1]Fortunately, even “Prelude”, intended to become a novel entitled “The Aloe”, turned out to be a short story. Her will to modernize made her surpass ‘old-fashioned’ conventions and experiment with points of view through revising “The Aloe”, until she found a style that became characteristically her own. She managed to enable the readers of her stories to enter into a kind of personal relationship with the characters of her writings.[2]

This assignment shall investigate the development from “The Aloe” as an “auktorial” narrative to “Prelude” being more “personal”. First, it provides a brief overview of the story’s textual genesis. Afterwards, we shall have a close look at Mansfield’s point-of-view-technique: what were the circumstances for her experimenting? What is distinctive about Mansfield’s style and what are the ‘side effects’? Here, Mansfield’s “glimpses” shall be devoted an extra chapter, since these hold a special position in the improvement of Mansfield’s method. As a last point, we want to compare “Prelude” with its original version “The Aloe” to demonstrate the progression.

2. Textual Genesis

To merely state that the genesis of Katherine Mansfield’s “The Aloe” started with the sudden death of her beloved brother Leslie Beauchamp does not do justice to the complexity of the writing process (Kaplan 1991, 105), which actually commences in 1915 after an unexpected meeting with Leslie in London. Katherine is even happier to see him since things in her life are not getting on very well: she has been ill, she has no good prospects of a job as a writer, and her relationship with John Middleton Murry is again in a crisis. Leslie revives recollections of their childhood in New Zealand and lends Katherine the money to travel to Paris where Katherine wishes to escape to from a feeling of inner confinement. She desires to find freedom in the arms of Francis Carco, a friend of Murry’s, whom she had met in Paris in 1914. Carco seems to be emotionally closer to her by that time, in contrast to Murry who is greatly occupied with other things. After returning to London and travelling back again to Paris she writes a first part of “The Aloe”, but soon she is overcome with loneliness and illness and comes home to Murry, carrying with her a manuscript of fifty pages[3](Mansfield 1983, 9-12). In October 1915 the news of Leslie’s sudden death - he was accidentally killed while serving at the Front - take Katherine by surprise; for a long time she is overwhelmed by deep sorrow and depression and puts down her work on “The Aloe” for several months. Slowly recovering from distress she settles on producing a work dedicated to her brother in memory of their early days spent in the home country New Zealand (Mansfield 1983, 12n.): “[...] I want to write a kind of elegy to you ... perhaps not in poetry. Nor perhaps in prose. Almost certainly in a kind ofspecial prose” (Mansfield 1954, 94). By the end of February the following year she rereads the manuscript she had brought with her to London and decides to develop it for her ambitious project:

Ifound The Aloethis morning. And when I had re-read it I knew I was not quite ‘right’ yesterday. No, dearest, it was not just the spirit. The Aloeis right. The Aloeis lovely. It simply fascinates me, and I know that it is what you would wish me to write. And now I know what the last chapter is. It is your birth – your coming in the autumn. [...] The next book will be yours and mine. (Mansfield 1954, 97n.)

If one studies the last chapter of “The Aloe” and its revised version “Prelude” one notices that Mansfield did not come as far as she had premeditated. The birth of her brother intended to serve as closing chapter was to be kept for a section in the short story “At the Bay” (Mansfield 1983, 13n.).

The following months were devoted to modifying and improving her work, and in October 1917 she handed in the new version entitled “Prelude” to her friend Virginia Woolf to have it printed. The first replicas were finally delivered in July 1918. In 1930, Murry edited the original version “The Aloe”. (Mansfield 1983, 14-18) It was initially considered to become a novel Mansfield never managed to write (Ganzmann 1985, 253), a kind of ‘Bildungsroman’ leading from infancy to maturity (Nathan 1988, 13). The formal aspect to support this is made evident through the division of “Prelude” into twelve episodes comparable to twelve hours of a day. One is young and inexperienced by dawning, grows wiser as day advances, and perhaps attains maturity at the end of it[4]. According to Nathan (13), all the stories dealing with New Zealand like “At the Bay” or “How Pearl Button was Kidnapped” finally “make up Katherine Mansfield’s [...] novel of growth [...]”.


[1]Of course, she started several attempts to put her pen to paper for a novel, but all efforts stayed fragmentary.

[2]According to Berkman (1935, 80/81), Mansfield did not invent this method, but she used it most perfectly.

[3]O’Sullivan subsequently speaks of a fifty-one pages manuscript (Mansfield 1983, 17).

[4]The fact that “Prelude” extends over three days (1st day ch. I-IV; 2nd V-VII; 3rd VIII-XII) is not contradictory to what is stated, because three days can symbolically represent ‘morning’, ‘noon’, and ‘evening’ in life.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Mansfield's "Prelude" to a new era: On the development of a narrative structure
University of Trier  (Faculty II: English)
PS Literary Studies: Katherine Mansfield
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ISBN (eBook)
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Mansfield, Prelude, Literary, Studies, Katherine, Mansfield
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Nadine Scherny (Author), 2003, Mansfield's "Prelude" to a new era: On the development of a narrative structure, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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