Short Stories

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The Garden Party and Other Stories

1998, Katherine Mansfield


"The Garden Party" is a 1922 short story by Katherine Mansfield. It was first published (as "The Garden-Party") in three parts in the Saturday Westminster Gazette on 4 and 11 February 1922, and the Weekly Westminster Gazette on 18 February 1922. It later appeared in The Garden Party and Other Stories. Its luxurious setting is based on Mansfield's childhood home at 133 Tinakori Road (originally numbered 75), the second of three houses in Thorndon, Wellington that her family lived in.

The wealthy Sheridan family are preparing themselves to host a garden party. Laura is charged with commanding the workers on the placement of the marquee. Her "superior" air quickly disintegrates into an admiration for the workingmen, with whom she feels a personal connection. Laura's mother, Mrs Sheridan, has ordered masses of lilies, to both their delight. Laura's sisters, Meg and Jose, and their servant Hans, move furniture around to accommodate the piano. Jose tests the piano, and then sings a song in case she is asked to do so again later. After surveying the food in the kitchen, Laura and Jose learn that their working-class neighbour Mr Scott has died just outside their gate. While Laura believes the party should be called off, neither Jose nor their mother agrees. After catching herself in the mirror wearing a new hat, Laura eases her conscience by deciding to forget the matter until the party is over. When the evening comes, and the family is sitting underneath the marquee, Mrs Sheridan tells Laura to bring a basket full of leftovers to the Scotts' house. Laura is led into the poor neighbours' house by Mrs Scott's sister, sees the pitiable figure of the widow, and is led to the late husband's corpse. Here, Laura is intrigued by the peacefulness of the dead man's face, and she finds his face in death just as beautiful as life as she knows it. Having fled the house, Laura meets her brother Laurie at the corner of the lane. She finds herself burdened by emotion, saying "Isn't life-" but unable to finish the sentence. Her brother replies by saying, "Isn't it, darling?"

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