Mansfield’s work is best represented in The Garden Party and Other Stories, the last book she published during her lifetime, in 1922. The stories – she never wrote a novel – are fluid, lively and funny, with Open Plots and Tactile Light: Characters are introduced with minimal background information, allowing the reader to fill in the details. The stories change perspective, and Mansfield said she wanted to “step up the so-called little things – to really make everything meaningful”. As well as being modern in style, the opening story At the Bay, feels very timely right now when a character reflects on the horror of returning to the office: “I’m like an insect flying around a room of its own volition – I rush against the walls, I rush against the windows, I crash against the ceiling, I do everything on God’s earth, in fact, except fly away again.”
The stories and books of these 1922 writers – of Mansfield, Sinclair, Woolf, Lewis and Akutagawa – carry their novelty and brilliance with less force than those of Eliot or Joyce. (Eliot, with mild praise, said Mansfield’s writing “deals with minimal material perfectly – that’s what I believe would be called feminine.”) But they were equally important responses to the tumultuous years. , and we can read their influence in today’s writing just as clearly, both in style and subject. Practitioners were not always so confident. Mansfield feared that “I won’t be ‘in’ for long. They’ll discover me, they’ll be disgusted, they’ll shudder in dismay”. And Virginia Woolf, towards the end of 1922 – on Christmas Day – wrote to her friend Gerald Brenan, saying that she feared that their generation of writers was only a springboard for the next: “For I agree with you that nothing is going to be achieved by us. Fragments – paragraphs – a page, perhaps: but no more. She was, as we can happily see 100 years later, dead wrong.
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