„In a German Pension“ suggests itself to be read by those who found Mann’s Zauberberg too self-indulgent or just too long but liked the general plot (or just would appreciate another point of view) or to those who appreciated Elizabeth von Arnim’s view of on outsider on German society.
Katherine Mansfield has her first-person narrator heroïne wittilly report on her visit to a German spa – vacation, „Kur“, told in 13 short stories, each on a different subject, linked by common location, narrator and recurring personnel. The status of this young married englishwoman as an onlooker who simply MUST compare between what would be common in England and in Germany results in a number of insightful considerations and apt remarks. So in story number 4, "Frau Fischer" remarks „Ah, that is so strange about you English. You do not seem to enjoy discussing the functions of the body. …How can we hope to understand anybody, knowing nothing of their stomachs?“ I would really enjoy re-reading the text in my doctor’s waiting room….
Mostly, you find some inherent sarcasm as in the second story on class-aware behaviour, „The Baron“: „At that moment the postman …came in with the mail. He threw my letters into my milk pudding ….The manager of the pension came in with a little tray. A picture post card was deposited on it, and reverently bowing his head, the manager of the pension carried it to the Baron.
Myself, I felt disappointed that there was not a salute of twenty-five guns.“
There are less lighthearted stories, like "Frau Brechenmacher Attends a Wedding“, talking gloomily about nuptial days and beds and philistine indignation. And for „At Lehmann’s“ one cannot help to take the reason into account why the author herself was in Germany. There certainly is more than just a general undertone about marriage, at least some men’s behaviour and motherhood, like when Elsa shouts out “ ‘You know ever since Fritz and I have been engaged, I share the desire to give everybody, to share everthing!‘
‘How extremely dangerous‘, said I.“
Katherine Mansfield (*1988 in Wellington; t 1923 in France of tuberculosis) is often considered to be New Zealand’s most famous writer. Interested (and fluent!) in French and German language, she permanently lived in Europe after 1908 where she fell in love, married another man and left him in the wedding night, returned to her lover by whom she had gotten pregnant. She went to ‘Kur’ in Bad Wörishofen. Her visit serves as the inspiration for this, her first book of short stories which was published in 1911. Mansfield lost the baby in Bad Wörishofen after having lifted a heavy trunk.
I normally am not much into short stories – as soon as I am “in” they are over, but I do really appreciate Mansfield’s. The whole Setup in this debut has nothing to do with New Zealand but the author. Still, it is being considered to already display some of her later works’ characteristics, such as gender relations and social norms but also in some of the character types and symbols used – information from the last two paragraphs taken from
The short life, its turmoils and inglorious and early end do add a lot to the myth – but what an exceptional talent wasted all too soon.