Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Collected Stories - Katherine Mansfield

Although I have read some of Katherine Mansfield’s stories before, I have never had them collected in a single volume. And what a volume. All her collections (including those published posthumously) and all the unfinished stories. In a single volume. For £2.00. For this, Wordsworth Editions should be applauded (and there are plenty of other reasons for applause where they are concerned).

Mansfield’s work is highly influential. Rightly considered a major proponent of the modern short story, she excelled in a form that is much used but rarely perfected. Her language is luminous, and like light it opens up whole areas often otherwise in shadow, and does so without weight. We are offered glimpses of things we might not otherwise see, of emotions and relationships that would otherwise stay hidden, yet we are never left with the sense of that the author is trying to make a point.

Not all of her stories work. Some feel incomplete and others rely on attitudes that have been irrevocably changed by events. Some are a bit too well crafted and there is an immediacy in the unfinished works that has been smoothed from some of the finished works. However, even the least of her stories are so superbly crafted they are worth reading for the simple pleasure of experiencing language that dances.

The other thing that Mansfield’s work demonstrates is that short stories are an art form in their own right. To find the balance between brevity and depth; to leave the reader feeling that have been treated to something complete that could have been presented in no other way is a great deal more exacting than many believe. And anyone who is serious about writing short stories really should read Katherine Mansfield. It would be £2.00 well spent.