Gender Trouble in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’

“. . . but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck this flower, safety.” [1]

‘Bliss’ opens with the heroine – Bertha – being moved by an overwhelming, and misunderstood, feeling of anticipation, which is particularly characterised by her inability to give expression to it. Throughout much of the story she is unable to give full expression to her inner passions, whether out of fear or inability, ‘her discourse is tempered by social conditioning.’[2] When she is overcome by this intense feeling of bliss she asks whether there is ‘no way to express it without being ‘drunk and disorderly’’ and perceives civilisation as ‘idiotic’ because of its control over her own individual expression. When she desires to ‘get in touch’ with her husband, she becomes paralysed on the phone, ‘What had she to say? She’d nothing to say… She couldn’t absurdly cry: ‘Hasn’t it been a divine day!’ Again, in the nursery, the contrast between her internalised feelings and her verbalised response is striking, ‘You’re nice – you’re very nice! … I’m fond of you. I like you,’ she says to her baby daughter. Continue reading “Gender Trouble in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’”

A Queer Reading of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’

Katherine Mansfield, 1916
Katherine Mansfield, 1916

‘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.’ Katherine Mansfield, Bliss (1918)

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.’

Continue reading “A Queer Reading of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’”