The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield - Review

This week's short story review will be on Katherine Mansfield's The Garden Party. Published in 1922, this is the story of, well, a garden party. If we are to really break it down, this is a story about social class and respect, with the garden party serving as the symbolic setting for these ideas to play out. Our protagonist is Laura, the daughter of a Mrs. Sheridan and one of the many family members working to prepare for a garden party at their home. Whether it's selecting a spot for the marquee, sampling the cakes, or testing the piano, there is simply a lot to be done, with Laura seeming to be tasked with a bit of everything.


However, things change for Laura when she discovers that a man living in the area died that same day, after being thrown off his horse. The deceased left behind a wife and children. Upon learning of this tragedy, Laura believes the garden party ought to be postponed, arguing that it wouldn't be in good taste to continue with celebrations considering a local had just died. Unfortunately for Laura, the others aren't as willing to cancel the festivities over the death of the man. Especially considering he was a member of the poorer collection of households. Some even went as far as calling him a drunkard, purely based on assumption.


Laura seemingly lost this battle of ethics, but by the end of the evening as the garden party wound down, she felt her impact as Mrs. Sheridan suggested Laura take some of the leftover food and dessert to the widow in mourning. Laura did just that and it was an emotional experience, seeing the man's widow crying by a fire, while also being shown the body of her dead husband. The story ends with Laura leaving the mourning home and crying in her brother's arms.


Story and Plot - /30


The story and plot of Mansfield's The Garden Party was good. Not great or bad, just good. It was meaningful in a simple way, being very easy to understand while also sparking ethical questions through the usage of familiar social critiques - that of class.


At the plot's core, we have the predicament of whether to continue planned celebrations when a death has just occurred. More specifically, it is an upper class event occurring concurrently with the mourning of a lower class death. I have never been in the situation of debating whether to cancel or continue a celebration due to the death of a neighbour or someone living close by, and nor do I exist within the extremes of the wealth spectrum, but nevertheless the story's predicament made me think - always a positive! This would be an uncomfortable situation, but not an impossible one. The answer in my mind is simple, what was your relationship with the person who passed? If you were close with the person and their family, then I would seriously consider postponing. If you were not, then there is less pressure. I would still make an effort to send condolences, but the loss isn't as personal. That's where I stand. If you disagree, I completely understand and would love to hear your take as well!


The reason for writing out my thoughts is not necessarily because this is the discussion I want to have, but to showcase the strength of the plot's questions. I definitely considered the situation, but as stated I didn't find it to be a tricky one to solve, meaning that although the story did present supposed ethical questions to consider, they were not complex in nature and did not generate deep thought and consideration after finishing the story. They did present solid critiques of class and its stereotypes, as members of Laura's family instinctively referred to the deceased as a drunkard due to his lower class reality, but again, these are familiar ideas and critiques that come across in many stories. They must be written and presented in an extremely unique and attractive fashion to stand out.


Overall, I give the plot a 20/30. It was good, contained meaning, and made you think for a brief second, but was nothing spectacular.


Characters - /20


Mansfield's characters worked. There was nothing memorable about them, but they did their job and served their purpose effectively. Everyone was a stereotype in my mind. Laura and her family were the usual upper-class collective we're used to seeing in stories: ignorant, inconsiderate, old-money folk. They live in their own little bubble, typically on a large estate. I often imagine a white colonial home, with a picket fence and simple gardens. Out of the entire family, Laura happens to be the one 'odd' one out who sees past her family's narrow and inconsiderate worldview. She's the one with sympathy for the less fortunate, and the one in the story that suggests postponing her household's celebrations in respect of a passing down the road, as we already know.


The thing is, like my critique with the story, we've seen this character many times, and for it to be successful it needs to be highly original and dynamic. Which it wasn't, rather being quite familiar. For this reason alone, I cannot give the characters a high score, either. Yes, they were good, but nothing more. 12/20


Writing - /15


I feel like I'm starting to repeat myself, and sorry if I am, but my critiques and thoughts on Mansfield's The Garden Party seem to be consistent throughout every aspect of my review. The writing, like everything else thus far, did the job, but not in a memorable fashion. It wasn't visual or descriptive, exciting or witty. It was just there. I actually found it to be stale at times. It did what it was meant to do - deliver a story. Nothing more. 8/15


Setting - /5


The setting, considering the context of our story and plot, was spot on. An upper-class family estate situated above the lower-class cottages of the less fortunate, as the privileged plan celebrations knowing the poor are in mourning. No complaints here. As mentioned, the imagery of a well kept but simple, colonial-like property was clear and linked up perfectly with its inhabitants. 5/5


The Gut-Feeling - /30


My overall reaction and feeling towards this short story is neutral. There was no wow-factor, but it wasn't bad. It put forth a familiar and semi thought-provoking story with good intention, but a lackluster delivery. It's for this reason that my comments and critiques were repetitive and became gradually shorter. There's not much to admire, but there's not much to dislike. Is this worthy of being a top short story for the ages? No. It lacked the punch of hooking and having you ask for more, and nor was it original. But it worked. Nothing more, nothing less. 18/30


Final Score - 63/100


 
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