‘The Man Without Temperament’ by Katherine Mansfield

Mansfield is able to do things with pace that I’ve not experienced with any other writer. The best of her stories simmer along for a few pages and then a final few words will suddenly pull everything into a tight knot. 

As with much of her fiction, on the first page it’s not quite clear where you are or who is present, or there is some kind of presumption that you already know this place, you’ve been living there for years. A man is standing at a door “turning the ring, turning the heavy signet ring upon his little finger”, and then, amongst a placeless assortment of people, another hand enters the scene, “A hand, like a leaf, [falls] on his shoulder.” The dynamics of anxiousness and frailty, captured in a subtle series of gestures and perspectival shifts, carry through right to the cool aggression of the final line, and there we find a husband unable to reconcile memories of romance with caring for his now sick wife. 

First published as ‘The Man Without a Temperament’ in Art and Letters, vol.3, no.2, Spring 1920. Collected in Bliss and Other Stories, Constable, 1920Now widely available, including in the Selected Stories, Oxford World Classics, 2008

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