When my undergraduate creative writing professor assigned Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’, I was resistant to reading what seemed, on first impressions, to be a story about a frivolous, wealthy English woman preparing for a party. But this story taught me that first impressions are deceptive. Here, a single overheard conversation changes everything—a brief, fleeting moment, but significant enough to undo a life—and by the end of the story, we understand that the source of Bertha’s “bliss” up until now has been her ignorance. After that innocence is lost, it’s impossible to read the story the way you did the first time. On a second read, Bertha’s expressions of almost child-like delight are undercut by irony, and dread for what you know she will discover before the evening is over. It’s often said that the ending of a short story should feel “surprising yet inevitable”, and ‘Bliss’ provides a classic example of this at work.
First published in English Review, vol. 27, in 1918. Widely collected, including in Strange Bliss: Essential Stories, Pushkin Press, 2021. Available to read online via the the Katherine Mansfield society