Discussion of Mansfield’s writing technique in the early years after her death was initially subordinate to the overwhelming interest in her personality, with the hagiography of her life and praise for her personal writing – particularly in France – for many years taking precedence over any consideration of her fiction. However, with the passage of time there has emerged a more balanced and critical viewpoint, with an attempt to remove the saint-like, ethereal, wholly false mask of the author so revered by the French. The aim of this discussion is to illustrate how radical and innovative Mansfield’s narrative writing would become during her life-time, ultimately placing her at the forefront of Modernist short story writers.
Yet even today, there are a few critics who tend to concentrate on the facets of Mansfield’s personality or her art which tally with their particular literary hypothesis, ignoring what does not, in order to create their particular version of Mansfield the writer. It is not often that one is able to view all the facets which go to make up Mansfield’s complex body of work. Mansfield was that rare thing – a writer exclusively associated with the short story. The notional superficiality of her stories, together with the premise that the short story is perceived to be a lesser form, has meant that many critics have viewed Mansfield as a minor writer.
It is not known what she might have accomplished had her life not been cut short or whether her narrative art might have gone in a different direction. Her legacy comprises roughly ninety stories – some incomplete – totalling about 300,000 words. This study offers a detailed consideration of Mansfield's short stories and her work in the context of a literary Modernist. Subjects covered include: 'Mansfield's Narrative Technique', 'Use of Literary Impressionism', 'The Incorporation of Symbolism', 'Sexuality as a Theme', 'Portrayal of Children', 'Use of Humour', 'War and Death'.