A Study of Katherine Mansfield's Bliss

2844 words 12 pages
Katherine Mansfield's story, "Bliss," is about sex. Yet, because Bertha's sexuality does not manifest itself in an immediate desire for a heterosexual sexual encounter it is difficult to determine how sexuality figures in the story. The presentation of sexuality in Mansfield's stories is so unique that most critics contributing to Jan Pilditch's The Critical Response to Katherine Mansfield do not realize how deeply sexuality figures in the stories and do not refer to it in their analyses. Cherry Hankin theorizes that Mansfield's stories are about the psychological impact on a character when fantasy and reality conflict, yet she never defines fantasy as sexual, and feels the fantasy, in "Bliss" that is destroyed is that Bertha and Pearl are …show more content…

Bertha's sexuality is denied—by herself, her husband, and a repressive society—and she thinks she is becoming hysterical when her vision of the floating bowl makes her want to laugh. Bertha puts herself within a continuing patriarchal tradition of hysterical women, but Mansfield brings her out of it by showing that this beautiful delusory bliss is an expression of sexual feeling and not a form of madness. In "The Daughters of the Late Colonel," Constantia's adolescent sexual desire responded to nature and is reawakened by the music of a barrel-organ and the play of the sun through the window. She wonders about marriage and then remembers when she "had come in here, crept out of bed in her nightgown when the moon was full, and lain on the floor with her arms outstretched, as though she was crucified. Why? The moon had made her do it" (Alpers, 402). This prostration to a form of nature seems a peculiarly female expression of sexuality. The scene is reminiscent of Gracie's adolescent experience in Iris Murdoch's An Accidental Man. Gracie is lying on a boat with Garth, whom she will fall in love with: "Gracie's eyes closed and she existed floating in the midst of a warm pink sphere, lying limp and boneless, her body light and extended and drooping like a plucked tossed flower," and she remembers:

...This was Gracie's place and she was alone