‘But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place-that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror-but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big, dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something … divine to happen … that she knew must happen … infallibly.’
Several critics have identified Bertha’s intense feeling of bliss as a symbol of her awakened desire for Harry, and/or Pearl. Although it is not explicitly evident, at first, exactly what is fuelling this ‘shower of sparks’ in her bosom the extensive use of the ‘fire’ and heat metaphors can be described as being synonymous with sexual passion and desire. It begins with the description of her bliss as ‘though you’d suddenly swallowed a piece of that bright afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom… little shower of sparks’, and continues ‘… passionately, passionately… the fire in her bosom.’
Interestingly, this passionate heat is contrasted against its polar coolness; ‘It was dusky in the dining room, and quite chilly… the cold air fell on her arms’, there is also a ‘cold mirror’ that reflects back a smiling, radiant woman in a frenzy of passion. This moment of the cold mirror image reflecting the radiant, smiling self may be particularly reflective of her duality, or more specifically the duality of her desire. The coldness comes back again whilst Bertha is describing her physical, and presumably sexual, relationship with Harry, ‘It had worried her dreadfully at first to find that she was so cold.’ When Pearl arrives however, the whole feeling returns more powerfully than before, it is the touch of her ‘cool arm that could fan-fan-start blazing-blazing-’ – and then culminate in – ‘the fire of bliss.’ These contrasting images of heat and cold seem to demonstrate the source of Bertha’s real ‘feeling of bliss’; Bertha considers herself ‘cold’ in her heterosexual experiences with Harry, she becomes frigid, but her homosexual desires for Pearl ignite in her the authentic heat of passion.
Continue reading “A Queer Reading of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’”