Modernism In Bliss By Katherine Mansfield

Word Count: 1592 |

Modernism in Bliss by Katherine Mansfield

‘Bliss’ by Katherine Mansfield could be read as sentimental prose however, it is a revolutionary Modernist story still being read and analysed in the 21st century. It is the story of Bertha Young, a ‘happy’ housewife and Mother. Set in one day as Bertha prepares for a dinner party she is having for her ‘modern, thrilling friends…just the kind of friends they wanted.’

At the start of the story Bertha is experiencing a feeling of joy that she has never felt before ‘a feeling of absolute bliss’ though she has difficulty in articulating and explaining this feeling. She longs to share, to understand and find somebody that can also identify with this feeling. Bertha is looking forward to a dinner party she is giving for some friends – a bourgeoisie bohemian set of artists who are grotesque exaggerations, shallow and meaningless people. If Bertha is aware of this she fails to acknowledge this. She has also invited to dinner her new mysterious and enigmatic friend Pearl Fulton and Bertha imagines that there is a connection between them. As the story proceeds Bertha is able to identify the feelings of ‘bliss’ that she is experiencing but her learning curve and desire is suddenly cut short when Bertha realises that Pearl Fulton is her husbands lover.

‘Bliss’ is told from a third person point of view which means that the reader must rely on Bertha’s viewpoint. The first two pages deal with Bertha’s feelings of exhilaration and she repeatedly reminds the reader of how happy she is and how perfect her life is. However, this makes the reader feel that she may not be a reliable protagonist – that perhaps she is hiding something. Simultaneously Bertha exclaims when trying but failing to connect with her feelings or somebody ’How idiotic civilisation is!’ indicating a glimmer of self-awareness. Despair and feelings of doom are common in Modernist literature. That Bertha utters these words amidst her proclamations of delight are a strong indication of the this story is of the modernist genre by the third paragraph.

Marxism was gaining strength in the 1920s and was a current affairs subject. Jean Baudrillard says ‘commodities…are all signifiers’ that what we buy, we buy for the social status that it brings us. Bertha is very keen to inform us of the commodities in her life;
‘…really – she had everything…They didn’t have to worry about money. They had this absolutely satisfactory house and garden. And friends – modern, thrilling friends…books…music…a wonderful little dressmaker…going abroad in the summer, and their new cook made the most superb omelettes….’
Bertha informs us of her social status not understanding that she is being transparently shallow. Baudrillard goes on to say;
‘What is being signified is in fact your position(s) as a subject…identity is thus a product of the signifiers with which one surrounds oneself, rather than something that is unique to each individual’
Therefore in trying to surround herself with commodities that achieve social status Bertha is actually alienating herself. A perfect example of this is when Bertha visits her baby in the nursery. The Nanny is very much in control. Having a nanny, a commodity – a symbol of wealth and status – has caused Bertha to become a stranger to her own child. Harry admits the same when he says he has no interest in his child. By using labour to raise their child they have both become alienated from the child. There are no connections between these three human beings.

Katherine Mansfield typically uses female protagonists and casts them as victims of their gender or class, trapped and alienated by modern society and the transitory nature of their society. Published in 1920, the role of women in society was going through radical change, hemlines had risen, women’s hairstyles were shorter, the right to vote was being fought for and eventually passed in 1928, all girls received basic education and women in the workplace was becoming more socially acceptable. ’Bliss’ is set within the confines of the house. Although we glimpse into the garden we do not go beyond those boundaries. This emphasises the air of loneliness and alienation that Bertha feels at points throughout the story. When she throws the cushions onto the chair ‘the room came alive at once’ it is the only action that seems to bring any life to the house and Bertha’s empty life. Despite the changes for women in society Bertha Young is living through this ephemeral period and you feel that she is too naïve and childlike to cope with these changes hence she is left with feelings she is unable to recognise and the effect of alienation.

Symbolism is a strong feature in modernism and ‘Bliss’ is packed with symbolism. The strongest being the pear tree which represents different characters and binds them together at the end. When Bertha first sees the pear tree she says ‘it stood perfect, as though becalmed against the jade-green sky’ which ties up with the white dress and string of jade beads that she wore that evening. We are told that she had decided upon that outfit whilst looking at the pear tree earlier. Later Pearl Fulton is the pear tree when she is described as ‘…all silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blonde hair…’ The tree also brings the two women together when stood ‘side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree.’ The relevance of the pear tree at the end of the story is very important. On discovering her husbands infidelities with Peal Fulton, Bertha’s journey of self awareness and realisation of her sexual desires is abruptly brought to a standstill. She realises that she will not complete the journey and asks ‘what is going to happen now?’ but nothing is going to happen. The pear tree which, is again a representation of Bertha, is ‘lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.’ Everything for Bertha, who the tree represents, will be the same, still. As Elaine Showalter says in ‘A Literature Of Their Own’
In the short stories of Katherine Mansfield, the moment of self-awareness is also the moment of self-betrayal….Bertha’s recognition that the feeling she calls ‘bliss’ the ‘fire in her bosom’, is sexual ardour, is quickly followed by her discovery of her husbands adultery.’

My own thoughts on reading this independently was that it was the story of one woman’s sexual desire and love for another woman. Gender and sexual issues for women in the 1920s was still a very taboo subject amongst the respectable middle classes. Sexual liberation is common subject in modernist writing. I believe that Bertha was sexually attracted to Pearl Fulton. Bertha admits to being frigid and that she and Harry are good friends in a sexless loveless marriage. Bertha is unable to connect with Harry. When they talk on the telephone she attempts to make a connection with her husband but fails. However, Bertha is certain that she and Pearl share a connection, Bertha never once doubts this. The excitement and ‘bliss’ that she feels all day is the desire, that she is unable to articulate, for Pearl Fulton. Showalter says;
Mansfield, amongst other female modernist writers, created a female aesthetic…Their version of modernism was a determined response to the material culture of male Edwardian novelists…female sensibility took on a sacred quality. She goes onto to explain that the more feminine literature became the further away it went from the physical experience for a woman. References to sexual experience are disguised in symbolism. Bertha is unable or unwilling to recognise or express her desire and so female aesthetics are used to convey this.

The concept of modernity is central to this story. Bertha’s friends, her coffee machine and even the relationship with her husband is thoroughly modern. Their dinner guests – bourgeoisie artists – are modern people with a modern people with a contemporary outlook. The mode of transports that the guests use and the city dwellings and dangers that these modern amenities represent are all depicted in this story, all of subjects are subjects used again and again in modernist literature. The bourgeoisie set of friends are portrayed as ridiculous almost grotesque characters – dressing up in what looks like ’banana skins’ and roving eyes and monocles. They talk about absurdly abstract theatre, interior design and poetry and really say nothing very much at all. The story I believe looks at how ridiculous and superficial the bourgeoisie can be despite their modern outlook. By satirising the these excessive characters we see how unimportant and insignificant mortals are. A thing is what it is and nothing more. And this is the at the heart of modernism making ‘Bliss’ very much a short story relevant to the mood of society at the time of publication.

In conclusion a modernist writers aim is to capture a moment in time exactly as they see it. Dispensing with all the traditional excessive and ornamental elements of Victorian writing which sought to celebrate the world and all life and nature in it. It makes the beautiful ugly, endings are realistic and protagonists are usually left with feelings of hopelessness and despair with civilisation. These hard cold emotions were in accordance with the way society felt as a whole during this turbulent transitory period. ’Bliss’ may not be obviously modernist – it seems very whimsical in tone in parts – but the reality is, when you closely read the story, it is a radical and bold piece of modernist prose.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

Allegory Of American Pie By Don Mc Lean

Ask anyone what was the defining moment in the rock history of the 1960s was and all you will get is a one word answer: Woodstock. The three day rock festival that defined an era was only one of many music festivals of the '60s. But Woodstock has come to symbolize, "an era of peaceful, free- loving, drug- taking hippie youth, carefree before harsher realities hit..." (Layman 40). The Woodstock festival ended a century filled with many metamorphoses of rock'n'roll, from the era of pop music to the rebirth of folk music to the invention of acid rock. But some cynics say that rock'n'roll died with the death of Buddy Holly before the 60s even began. One such person is Don McLean. The poet behind the haunting epic song about the death of 'danceable' music, McLean wrote the ever popular song, "American Pie" (appendix 1). The most important song in rock'n'roll history, "American Pie", is the song about the demise of rock'n'roll after Buddy Holly's death and the heathenism of rock that resulted. Although McLean himself won't reveal any symbolism in his songs, "American Pie" is one of the most analyzed pieces of literature in modern society. Although not all of its secrets have been revealed, many "scholars" of the sixties will agree that the mystery of this song is one of the reasons it has become so successful- everyone wants to know the meanings of its allegories. Proof of "American Pie's" truth lies in the allegory of the song. Many People enjoy the song but have no idea what it means- Who is the Jester? What is the levee? When the deeper story is found, the importance of the song is unearthed. "American Pie" is not only a song, it is an epic poem about the course of rock'n'roll...

Carl Orffs Philosophies In Music Education

While Carl Orff is a very seminal composer of the 20th century, his greatest success and influence has been in the field of Music Education. Born on July 10th in Munich, Germany in 1895, Orff refused to speak about his past almost as if he were ashamed of it. What we do know, however, is that Orff came from a Bavarian family who was very active in the German military. His father's regiment band would often play through some of the young Orff's first attempts at composing. Although Orff was adamant about the secrecy of his past, Moser's Musik Lexicon says that he studied in the Munich Academy of Music until 1914. Orff then served in the military in the first world war. After the war, he held various positions in the Mannheim and Darmstadt opera houses then returned home to Munich to further study music. In 1925, and for the rest of his life, Orff was the head of a department and co-founder of the Guenther School for gymnastics, music, and dance in Munich where he worked with musical beginners. This is where he developed his Music Education theories. In 1937, Orff's Carmina Burana premiered in Frankfurt, Germany. Needless to say, it was a great success. With the success of Carmina Burana, Orff orphaned all of his previous works except for Catulli Carmina and the En trata which were rewritten to be acceptable by Orff. One of Orff's most admired composers was Monteverdi. In fact, much of Orff's work was based on ancient material. Orff said: I am often asked why I nearly always select old material, fairy tales and legends for my stage works. I do not look upon them as old, but rather as valid material. The time element disappears, and only the spiritual power remains. My...

Johann Sebastian Bach Biography

Throughout the history of music, many great composers, theorists, and instrumentalists have left indelible marks and influences that people today look back on to admire and aspire to. No exception to this idiom is Johann Sebastian Bach, whose impact on music was unforgettable to say the least. People today look back to his writings and works to both learn and admire. He truly can be considered a music history great. Bach, who came from a family of over 53 musicians, was nothing short of a virtuosic instrumentalist as well as a masterful composer. Born in Eisenach, Germany, on March 21, 1685, he was the son of a masterful violinist, Johann Ambrosius Bach, who taught his son the basic skills for string playing. Along with this string playing, Bach began to play the organ which is the instrument he would later on be noted for in history. His instruction on the organ came from the player at Eisenach's most important church. He instructed the young boy rather rigorously until his skills surpassed anyone?s expectations for someone of such a young age. Bach suffered early trauma when his parents died in 1695. He went to go live with his older brother, Johann Christoph, who also was a professional organist at Ohrdruf. He continued his younger brother's education on that instrument, as well as introducing him to the harpsichord. The rigorous training on these instruments combined with Bach?s masterful skill paid off for him at an early age. After several years of studying with his older brother, he received a scholarship to study in Luneberg, Germany, which is located on the northern tip of the country. As a result, he left his brother?s tutelage and went to go and study there. The teenage years brought Bach to several parts of Germany where he...


Michelangelo was pessimistic in his poetry and an optimist in his artwork. Michelangelo?s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures that showed humanity in it?s natural state. Michelangelo?s poetry was pessimistic in his response to Strazzi even though he was complementing him. Michelangelo?s sculpture brought out his optimism. Michelangelo was optimistic in completing The Tomb of Pope Julius II and persevered through it?s many revisions trying to complete his vision. Sculpture was Michelangelo?s main goal and the love of his life. Since his art portrayed both optimism and pessimism, Michelangelo was in touch with his positive and negative sides, showing that he had a great and stable personality. Michelangelo?s artwork consisted of paintings and sculptures that showed humanity in it?s natural state. Michelangelo Buonarroti was called to Rome in 1505 by Pope Julius II to create for him a monumental tomb. We have no clear sense of what the tomb was to look like, since over the years it went through at least five conceptual revisions. The tomb was to have three levels; the bottom level was to have sculpted figures representing Victory and bond slaves. The second level was to have statues of Moses and Saint Paul as well as symbolic figures of the active and contemplative life- representative of the human striving for, and reception of, knowledge. The third level, it is assumed, was to have an effigy of the deceased pope. The tomb of Pope Julius II was never finished. What was finished of the tomb represents a twenty-year span of frustrating delays and revised schemes. Michelangelo had hardly begun work on the pope?s tomb when Julius commanded him to fresco the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to complete the work done in the previous century under Sixtus IV. The overall organization consists of four large triangles at...

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin Ireland on October 16, 1854. He is one of the most talented and most controversial writers of his time. He was well known for his wit, flamboyance, and creative genius and with his little dramatic training showing his natural talent for stage and theatre. He is termed a martyr by some and may be the first true self-publicist and was known for his style of dress and odd behavior. Wilde, 1882 His Father, William Wilde, was a highly accredited doctor and his mother, Jane Francesca Elgee, was a writer of revolutionary poems. Oscar had a brother William Charles Kingsbury along with his father's three illegitimate children, Henry, Emily, and Mary. His sister, Isola Emily Francesca died in 1867 at only ten years of age from a sudden fever, greatly affecting Oscar and his family. He kept a lock of her hair in an envelope and later wrote the poem 'Requiescat' in her memory. Oscar and his brother William both attended the Protora Royal School at Enniskillen. He had little in common with the other children. He disliked games and took more interest in flowers and sunsets. He was extremely passionate about anything that had to do with ancient Greece and with Classics. Wilde during school years In 1871, he was awarded a Royal School Scholarship to Trinity College in Dublin and received many awards and earned the highest honor the college offered to an undergraduate, the Foundation Scholarship. In 1874, he also won the College's Berkley Gold Medal for Greek and was awarded a Demyship to Magdalen College, Oxford. After graduating from Oxford, Oscar moved to London with his friend Frank Miles, a well-known portrait painter of the time. In 1878 his poem Ravenna was published, for which he won the...

The History Of Greek Theater

Theater and drama in Ancient Greece took form in about 5th century BCE, with the Sopocles, the great writer of tragedy. In his plays and those of the same genre, heroes and the ideals of life were depicted and glorified. It was believed that man should live for honor and fame, his action was courageous and glorious and his life would climax in a great and noble death. Originally, the hero's recognition was created by selfish behaviors and little thought of service to others. As the Greeks grew toward city-states and colonization, it became the destiny and ambition of the hero to gain honor by serving his city. The second major characteristic of the early Greek world was the supernatural. The two worlds were not separate, as the gods lived in the same world as the men, and they interfered in the men's lives as they chose to. It was the gods who sent suffering and evil to men. In the plays of Sophocles, the gods brought about the hero's downfall because of a tragic flaw in the character of the hero. In Greek tragedy, suffering brought knowledge of worldly matters and of the individual. Aristotle attempted to explain how an audience could observe tragic events and still have a pleasurable experience. Aristotle, by searching the works of writers of Greek tragedy, Aeschulus, Euripides and Sophocles (whose Oedipus Rex he considered the finest of all Greek tragedies), arrived at his definition of tragedy. This explanation has a profound influence for more than twenty centuries on those writing tragedies, most significantly Shakespeare. Aristotle's analysis of tragedy began with a description of the effect such a work had on the audience as a "catharsis" or purging of the emotions. He decided that catharsis was the purging of two specific emotions, pity and...

Scholarship Essay About Goals

Ever since I was a young kid I have always been interested with aircraft. I was so curious of how airplane's fly. I remember taking my toys apart to see how it works. As a kid I wanted to go to the airport to watch the airplanes land and fly and pondered how this happens. Other kids wanted to go to the amusement places. As I grew older I became more and more interested in aircraft and the technology behind it. I always involved myself with aviation early on. I read books and magazines on aviation, took museum tours, built model airplanes. When I was younger my father would take me to aircraft repair facilities where I would watch in great fascination. In my teens, went up to the military bases and befriended many soldiers involved with aircraft and asked them numerous questions. I got to meet many aeronautics engineers and borrowed their old textbooks and read them till the wee hours of the morning. As technology improved with information superhighway, I logged on the web. Stayed up for hours and hours searching through web pages and web pages of information about aircraft and technology. I started my elementary school in the Philippines, then we moved to U.S. and continued my high school education and graduated. Enrolled at the CCSF to pursue my college education and now I am in the 2nd year in CCSF taking aeronautics. My goal now is to obtain my AS degree from the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) so I can transfer to a University and get a Bachelors degree and to continue for my Masters degree in Aeronautics Engineering. I will strive hard to reach the peak level of my career which is a Professor and hopefully to be an aeronautic professor so...

Circus Circus Enterprises Case Studies

Executive Summary: Circus Circus Enterprises is a leader and will continue to be in the gaming industry. In recent years, they have seen a decline in profit and revenue; management tends to blame the decrease on continuing disruptions from remodeling, expansion, and increased competition. Consequently, Circus has reported decreases in its net income for 1997 and 1998 and management believes this trend will continue as competition heightens. Currently the company is involved in several joint ventures, its brand of casino entertainment has traditionally catered to the low rollers and family vacationers through its theme park. Circus should continue to expand its existing operations into new market segments. This shift will allow them to attract the up scale gambler. Overview Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc founded in 1974 is in the business of entertainment, with its core strength in casino gambling. The company?s asset base, operating cash flow, profit margin, multiple markets and customers, rank it as one of the gaming industry leaders. Partners William G. Bennett an aggressive cost cutter and William N. Pennington purchased Circus Circus in 1974 as a small and unprofitable casino. It went public in 1983, from 1993 to 1997; the average return on capital invested was 16.5%. Circus Circus operates several properties in Las Vegas, Reno, Laughlin, and one in Mississippi, as well as 50% ownership in three other casinos and a theme park. On January 31,1998 Circus reported net income of 89.9 million and revenues of 1.35 billion, this is a down from 100 million on 1.3 billion in 1997. Management sees this decline in revenue due to the rapid and extensive expansion and the increased competition that Circus is facing. Well established in the casino gaming industry the corporation has its focus in the entertainment business and has particularly a popular theme resort concept....

Effect Of Civil War On American Economy

The Economies of the North and South, 1861-1865 In 1861, a great war in American history began. It was a civil war between the north and south that was by no means civil. This war would have great repercussions upon the economy of this country and the states within it. The American Civil War began with secession, creating a divided union of sorts, and sparked an incredibly cataclysmic four years. Although the actual war began with secession, this was not the only driving force. The economy of the Southern states, the Confederacy, greatly if not entirely depended on the institution of slavery. The Confederacy was heavily reliant on agriculture, and they used the profits made from the sale of such raw materials to purchase finished goods to use and enjoy. Their major export was cotton, which thrived on the warm river deltas and could easily be shipped to major ocean ports from towns on the Mississippi and numerous river cities. Slavery was a key part of this, as slaves were the ones who harvested and planted the cotton. Being such an enormous unpaid work force, the profits made were extraordinarily high and the price for the unfinished goods drastically low in comparison; especially since he invention of the cotton gin in 1793 which made the work all that much easier and quicker. In contrast, the economical structure of the Northern states, the Union, was vastly dependent on industry. Slavery did not exist in most of the Union, as there was no demand for it due to the type of industrial development taking place. As the Union had a paid work force, the profits made were lower and the cost of the finished manufactured item higher. In turn, the Union used the profits and purchased raw materials to use. This cycle...

Evaluation Of The Effectiveness Of Trade Embargoes

Although I am a strong critic of the use and effectiveness of economic sanctions, such as trade embargoes, for the sake of this assignment, I will present both their theoretical advantages and their disadvantages based upon my research. Trade embargoes and blockades have traditionally been used to entice nations to alter their behavior or to punish them for certain behavior. The intentions behind these policies are generally noble, at least on the surface. However, these policies can have side effects. For example, FDR's blockade of raw materials against the Japanese in Manchuria in the 1930s arguably led to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which resulted in U.S. involvement in World War II. The decades-long embargo against Cuba not only did not lead to the topple of the communist regime there, but may have strengthened Castro's hold on the island and has created animosity toward the United States in Latin America and much suffering by the people of Cuba. Various studies have concluded that embargoes and other economic sanctions generally have not been effective from a utilitarian or policy perspective, yet these policies continue. Evaluation of the effectiveness of Trade Embargoes Strengths Trade embargoes and other sanctions can give the sender government the appearance of taking strong measures in response to a given situation without resorting to violence. Sanctions can be imposed in conjunction with other measures to achieve conflict prevention and mitigation goals. Sanctions may be ineffective: goals may be too elusive, the means too gentle, or cooperation from other countries insufficient. It is usually difficult to determine whether embargoes were an effective deterrent against future misdeeds: embargoes may contribute to a successful outcome, but can rarely achieve ambitious objectives alone. Some regimes are highly resistant to external pressures to reform. At the same time, trade sanctions may narrow the...