In a German Pension: Thirteen Stories

I went to the library with a list of titles I thought might be worth reading and none of them passed muster. Exasperated, I looked up on a shelf near me and spotted this slim volume of Katherine Mansfield’s stories, her first published collection, which contains the supposed Chekhov plagiarism in The-Child-Who-Was-Tired story. For this reason, Mansfield was supposedly keen to see this collection sink into obscurity, hoping that no one would discover the copying. I for one disagree in this theory, having just read a translated version of Sleepy (by Chekhov). The only similarities are that the main character is a young servant girl who is worked hard and who is desperately tired, who then realizes that her salvation is in smothering/strangling the baby who intrudes on her sleep. For anyone who attempts to write, you see the words formed by Mansfield and have an appreciation for them on their own. So the contours of the plot are the same, so what? It’s not like we don’t repeat the same boy-meets-girl story over and over.

The rest of the stories are without controversy and delightful, Mansfield working her magic to make you laugh unexpectedly, wryly smile. The narrator in the story, the “I” is a woman taking the cure in Germany from England, but neither English nor American (Mansfield was Australian). In one of the stories, a group from the hotel goes on an 8 kilometer excursion and she hears the lady novelist pontificating about beauty and how women must give themselves as gifts to men. KM echoes a line she earlier gave to the man insisting that the hike was 7.5 kilometers, who argues back and forth with an old man on the road: “Ignorance must not go contradicted!” This last utterance to cap off her retort to the novelist that her theory about women and love was way out of date.