By 1928 – the year The Well of Loneliness and Orlando were published –there was an increasing social awareness of female same-sex desire in Britain. Whilst The Well engages in religious and contemporaneous sexological discourse in order to legitimise and justify ‘sexual inversion’; Orlando adopts metaphorical language and narrative strategies to deconstruct and expose conventional heterosexuality, exploiting the possibility for same-sex desire.
‘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.’