Short story #29. The Stranger (Katherine Mansfield)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the three of spades.

Story: The Stranger, by Katherine Mansfield

Comments: It was only last year that I learned that Katherine Mansfield was not, as I had thought, English, but rather a New Zealander.  This story is set in a port town called “Salisbury” – which I presume is in that country?  At any rate, the reader joins Mr John Hammond and a group of others standing on the wharf as they anxiously wait for a ship lying in the harbour to dock.  Mr Hammond’s wife, Janey, is on the ship, returning from a long trip to Europe.  But a launch carrying a doctor on it has gone out to the ship, so someone on board is ill… no news is coming from the ship.  Poor Mr Hammond is so nervous, so fearful, that something has happened to his beloved wife, but he keeps the brave side out…  At last!  the ship docks, and Janey is fine.  What a relief.  The couple retire to a hotel for the night.  But there, Mr Hammond discovers that in fact something has happened, connected with the delay in docking, and his longed-for reunion with his wife is shattered…

This is a beautiful story, told from the point of view of Hammond, who is utterly besotted with his wife.  He behaves and feels like a teenager in love, even though the couple must by now be married for quite some time.  She, however, has a more mature attitude, and broader horizons.  The self-centredness and immaturity of his “love” become more and more apparent as the story progresses.  Mansfield’s imagery is always striking, such as in the opening paragraphs here, where the people on the ship lying in the harbour can be seen by those on the shore: “You could just see little couples parading – little flies walking up and down the dish on the grey crinkled tablecloth.  Other flies clustered and swarmed at the edge… now a tiny black spider raced up the ladder on to the bridge.”

The “stranger” of the title is delightfully enigmatic.  At first it seemed apparent to which character in the story it applied.  But on reflection… it could be one of the others…

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4 thoughts on “Short story #29. The Stranger (Katherine Mansfield)

  1. I’ve really enjoyed my limited reading of Mansfield thus far. Her great story “Marriage a La Mode” was part of my DMI2014 reading and “Her First Ball” was discussed by one of the reading groups I’m involved with. Did she also write “The Garden Party?” I read that one too, but way before my blogging days and don’t remember it that well. Your post has me curious about what happened on that boat – athough I have my suspicions… 🙂

  2. Pingback: Deal Me In – Week 44 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

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