“Bliss”. Katherine Mansfield (1918)
Although being thirty is probably the least important thing all over Mansfield’s short story Bliss, it seems to be some kind of clue for the reader, a sort of enigma to be solved by the moment he or she reaches the end.
Bertha Young, the adorable protagonist of the text is a thirty year old lady at her home, waiting for some guests and enjoying her magical concept of life: she is alive and therefore, she must be happy.
Dealing with the typical Bloomsbury´s way of living and writing, so connected that they lived as they wrote and viceversa, Katherine Mansfield brings the reader an apparently simple depict of a situation in the daily routine of a lady, but it is more than that: it is not a slice of life, it is the clue for understanding living itself.
By reading Bliss it is possible not to feel anything special; maybe the story hasn’t got that sense we need for considering it as a particular, different or extraordinary text. We could have a look at its paragraphs and only see a childish woman running upstairs and downstairs her house, making the arrangements for her guests, playing with her baby as if she was a doll and having foolish fantasies with that “mistery woman in silver dress” Miss Pearl Fulton is.
Yes, it could be possible, but it could be boring as well.
Let us read the story as a symbol: the symbol of futility of life. Bertha Young is preparing the house in order to cause an impression on her friends. That was a time to pretend, a period for being apparently perfect although anybody could be suffering inside.
Bertha Young is suffering for love. Her life is like a still life painting, like the fruits in the bowl over the table in the dining-room; plenty of colour but in the middle of darkness:
“Mary brought in the fruit on a tray and with it a glass bowl, and a blue dish, very lovely, with a strange sheen on it as though it had been dipped in milk.
‘Shall I turn on the light, M’m?’
‘No, thank you. I can see quite well.’
There were tangerines and apples stained with strawberry pink. Some yellow pears, smooth as silk, some white grapes covered with a silver bloom and a big cluster of purple ones. These last she had bought to tone with the new dining –room carpet. Yes, that did sound rather far-fetched and absurd, but it was really why she had bought them. She had thought in the shop: ‘I must have some purple ones to bring the carpet up to the table.’ And it had seemed quite sense at the time”.
What is happening next? the question narrows down to this: the protagonist is in the middle of a conflict with herself however she doesn’t know. On the one hand she’s obsessed with appeareances, trying to show a beautiful picture of her life to the others, on the other hand it is obvious that she is in love with Miss Fulton, probably only because of her external beauty, so perfect, so delicate, as the beautiful pear tree in the garden:
“And still, in the back of her mind, there was the pear tree. It would be silver now, in the light of poor dear Eddie’s moon, silver as Miss Fulton, who sat there turning a tangerine in her slender fingers that were so pale a light seemed to come from them”.
Unexpectedly, here comes the tragedy of life: the moment in which Bertha understands her fantasies are only that, mere fiction, the pure results of her imagination. When their guests are leaving the house, she catches a glimpse of her husband kissing the silver lady and the epiphany moment reveals itself on a second:
“While he looked it up she turned her head towards the hall. And she saw… Harry with Miss Fulton’s coat in his arms and Miss Fulton with her back turned to him and her head bent. He tossed the coat away, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her violently to him. His lips said ‘I adore you,’ and Miss Fulton laid her moonbeam fingers on his cheaks and smiled her sleepy smile…”
After this consideration, we reach the conclusion that being thirty is not a problem, but not knowing how to live a life of one’s own could probably be. The bliss in the title may be linked with those strange moments of happyness near to crazyness which anybody is able to experience at any time during the day. The epiphany moment, like a beautiful picture taken by instagram app. on the iphone. Like the pear tree:
“Bertha simply ran over to the long windows.
‘Oh, what is going to happen now?’ she cried.
But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still”.