Title: At the Bay
Author: Katherine Mansfield
Publication Date: Jan. 1922*
Publisher: London Mercury*
Where to buy: At the Bay
Summary: As Mr Burnell leaves for work, the females in his family, such as Linda Burnell, Beryl Burnell and several others begin their own adventures for the day.
*The short story was originally published in a literary journal in the 1920’s, however, the edition I read was published in 1996
I truly adore Katherine Mansfield’s descriptions. The early 20th-century short story opens just as morning does – slowly then all at once. Mansfield’s way of intricately describing the waking landscape was beautiful to read. It was amazing how the author described the “very early morning” in various ways, sometimes in the explicit tone of “the grass was blue” or in an implicit manner: “gardens were bowed to the earth with wetness”. The narrator of the short story seemed to immersed in the landscape as they noticed every little detail.
Regarding the narrative, nothing much seemed to happen at all, and that was perhaps Mansfield’s intention, as, at a further look, there are inner workings occurring within the text. There does not appear to be any obvious connection between the characters, and I think that it is a deliberate choice by Mansfield: displaying little erratic moments of life that do not seem to be significant but are in a small way.
I also believe the intended meaning of Mansfield’s title is that the lives of the characters seem to overlap, perhaps like waves on a beach. In addition, there is a parallel between the activities of the women and children and the movement of the ocean; the fact that the tide is out, they can be free and careless, and as the day closes and the tide comes in or ‘comes home’, routine ensues once more as if time has not passed.
Despite Mansfield’s lovely descriptions, the story fell flat for me. It had some interesting moments, an exchange between a young girl and her grandmother, but other than that, I struggled to connect with each character’s perspective of the day.
Why did I read it?
I love stories that are set by the sea or have a reference to the sea in its title.
Does the author have other works?
Katherine Mansfield wrote many short stories, some such as The Garden Party and Bliss.
In a similar style to Anton Chekov, the short story was an interesting character analysis, but I think it is rather dated. I will most likely read Mansfield again as she helped to shape the modernist era in English Literature.
– Melissa Jennings