‘The Doll’s House’ by Katherine Mansfield

Another story I’ve read countless times and yet cannot seem to get to the bottom of; it changes, or seems to, each time I read it. The characters are lodged in my brain — Kezia, of course, our Else, and, most of all, the remarkable Aunt Beryl, who despite appearing only twice, briefly, at the beginning and end of the story, nonetheless rises to the status of unforgettable. Nor does the story need any rehashing; its all there, clear as a bell — the divisive dolls house, all oily and green; that bloody lamp; the vicious clamouring of girls at school; the endnote with the Kelveys in the field with the patient cows. If I could paint, Id be able to paint it without looking once at the source text. And yet, and yet… what is it, actually? Is it a story of the power of goodness to bring hope for the future, to bring about change? Or is it a story of stasis, of the futility of goodness, a recognition that nothing ever changes, that there is no hope and that we will all always be like those two girls, sitting in fields, staring mutely at cows and musing over symbols that promise much but deliver little?

In The Collected Stories (Penguin, 2007), and available online here

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