‘Bliss’ by Katherine Mansfield

Thirtysomethings…

What can you do if you are thirty…?

Bertha Young, the thirty-year old protagonist of ‘Bliss’, is someone who has settled down to raise a family. Indeed, on the face of it, she appears to have it all: 

“Really – really – she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever […] She had an adorable baby. They didn’t have to worry about money. They had this absolutely satisfactory house and garden. And friends – modern, thrilling friends, writers and painters and poets or people keen on social questions – just the kind of friends they wanted. And then there were books, and there was music, and she had found a wonderful little dressmaker, and they were going abroad in the summer, and their new cook made the most superb omelettes…” 

And yet, and yet… Bertha Young may well spend the story in a state of sustained bliss (playing with her little daughter, hosting a dinner party for her fashionable friends, teasing her husband, etc.) but there’s an unvoiced adage lurking behind that single word title. And when, in the final passages of the story, Bertha’s reality is made brutally clear to her, that adage takes shape to remind us all that ignorance is bliss, and that bliss is ignorance. 

First published in the English Review 1918. Collected in Bliss and Other Stories, Alfred A. Knopf, 1920 and The Collected Stories, Constable, 1945. Available to read on the Katherine Mansfield Society webpage

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