Katherine Mansfield and The Book of the Month Club

This week’s blogs are by my students Afshan Ahmad and Kristine Aasland

Afshan Ahmad: Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude – A Weak Woman or a Warrior?

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A weak woman or a warrior? Linda, in Katherine Mansfield’s Prelude, refuses to be governed by the patriarchal expectations set for women. But her response is to neglect her role as a mother, all the while supressing her unhappiness. I found Linda’s inability to assert her own feelings most frustrating. By internalising her emotions, she becomes a passive woman settling with her dissatisfaction instead of believing that she has the power to find some shred of happiness in her life. You may say she is a warrior, bearing a life she does not want but I say she is a woman too weak to realise her own importance.

 

Kristine Aasland A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire by Janice A. Radway

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Janice A. Radway writes about how the Book-of-the-Month Club shaped her world view in ways she would not notice until much later. She is critical of book clubs, and the great power which the people in charge hold. Through the books chosen for her she was fed stories of great adventurers, and she disclaims in this extract that she wanted ‘to be such a person.’ (p. 347) In most of the stories she read there were strong male figures. It was the professional power of these men Radway went on to seek in her life, and towards the end of the text she admits to the ‘terrible costs’ these texts have had on her life. (p. 349) She might have been highly motivated in her own life, but the one-sided view of professionalism presented in the books also lead her to ‘the repudiation of [her] gender’. (p. 349) There are book clubs today as well, but what a seeking reader might most frequently come across are lists, such as The Guardian’s ‘The 100 best novels written in English: the full list’. As a reader one should question these lists and their creators, because even though books from both The Book-of-the-Month Club and lists one can find on the internet can hold great literary qualities, the book choices are still subjective. To have book recommendations come from one place only does not seem like a good idea either. As Radway has described in her text it might lead to a limited view of the world.

 

 

Reference: Radway, Janice A., ‘A Feeling for Books: The Book-of-the-Month Club, Literary Taste, and Middle-Class Desire’, in Feminist Literary Theory: A Reader, ed. by Mary Eagleton (Malden, MA: Whiley-Blackwell, 2011), 347-349

 

List from The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/17/the-100-best-novels-written-in-english-the-full-list

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8 responses to this post.

  1. In relation to a weak woman or warrior, I like that Afshan sees Linda’s neglect of her role as mother, a direct refusal to be governed by a patriarchal society but I would argue that the fact that she has already married and had children would suggest that she has already settled into the tradition of the woman’s role. The struggle to then come to terms with this fact is what appears to drive Linda into a depression or illness that sees her neglect the children, calling on the Angel of the house (her mother) to fill the maternal void. As a mother myself the decision to withdraw from your own children can be the most difficult, which I suggest would make Linda a warrior in many ways.

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  2. Posted by Ashley Foley on October 12, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    In response to Afshan’s comments on Linda being a week woman. I do agree that she is weak in terms of her neglecting both her unhappiness and children. However, I believe we are mean to see her as a reflection of the unhappiness a women faces in a position placed on her by man. In today’s society, Linda would have obviously opted to not have children but, in her time she is forced to have children as it is an expected ov women as a social norm in her society. Additionally, not only has she become trapped by a man impregnating her but, that same man has physically moved her and trapped her in a house that isolates her from society. This in effect forces her live a parental role everyday which she might not have wanted if it weren’t for her marriage and the push from society to have children after marriage.

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  3. Posted by Lenni-Mai Levy on October 12, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    I agree with Afshan, she is feeble woman keeping up a pretence of trying to be a warrior. For choosing materialistic objects over her young children most disappointing. However, I feel as though she is a ‘trapped’ woman, internally begging for help or attention if you’d like. I feel as though there were many women during this era who probably felt just the same as Linda, but didn’t want to come across as weak, cannot cope with maternal duties and too scared to ask for help, because like Ashley said above, its whats expected of them. Its the social norm, to have children, and to get on with it. Therefore, she suffers and effectively her poor children suffer too.

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  4. Posted by Taylor Dunn on October 12, 2016 at 7:53 pm

    I agree that Linda does not fulfil the social expectation of the feminine ideal – this is clearly shown through her rejection of her maternal role. However, it could be argued that Linda’s inability to express her emotion is not weakness, but a result of her restriction to the domestic sphere. Like the female protagonist in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, Linda’s subversive behaviour is labelled as ‘illness’ and her oppression manifests itself as madness. This could then explain the ‘hallucinations’ these women experience of objects they most commonly associate with their domestic prisons.

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  5. Posted by Neeti Rao on October 13, 2016 at 8:42 am

    I see Linda trapped in an inner fight between herself and the patriarchy and in that fight there is a glimpse of rebellion in which Linda neglects her role as a mother. It is almost a rebellion against the patriarchal society which has guidelines firmly set for women and Linda disobeying those rules (maternal duties). I somewhat agree with Afshan’s point in saying that Linda is incapable of understanding her own worth and is ‘too weak to realise her own importance’, however, it forces me to think whether this ‘incapability’ is embedded in her by the patriarchy? Or is it just her escapism? Women during this period being very much dependent emotionally and to see Linda have that emotional independence where she isn’t attached with her children is commendable to see – a little insensitive but admirable in a sense. A projection of a modern woman – who is still weak, or not?

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  6. Posted by Yasmin Osman on October 13, 2016 at 10:38 am

    With regards to Afshan’s response in ‘A Weak Woman or a Warrior’, I found myself agreeing with the insensitivity that Linda poses after neglecting her children, however it’s also relevant to note how readers sympathie with some of her actions. She is a woman deeply unhappy with her life as Afshan mentions, and we see how she juggles the structured role of women in the 20th century, and the stigma that came with ‘free-spirited women’. I found it really difficult to judge her for “abandoning” her children towards the beginning of the novel, as I see how unsatisfied with the limited role of wife and mother she truly is. We sense some of her rebellion and rebuke after she wakes up beside her husband to him being narcissistic about his physique, and admonishes him slightly. We are forced to ponder if this is the only destiny for a 20th century female.

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  7. Posted by annakhan on October 13, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    I agree with Afshan’s comments on Linda as I too found it frustrating how easily she neglected her role as a mother. However, the reader should not forget that Linda is an incredibly unhappy woman and this role of being a wife and mother was forced upon her due to society’s expectations of women at the time.

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  8. Posted by Shani on October 23, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    This comment is a little late, but in response to Afshan’s post title, I don’t think that Linda is a weak woman or a warrior. Labelling Linda as weak is not taking into account that her passiveness may not be her abandoning her responsibilities but her only way of coping with a situation she cannot handle. Labelling her as a warrior suggests that in Linda’s perseverance as a barely-there sort of mother, we should accredit her some kind of heroism, when her triumph is through surviving and not actively defining her role as mother. She’s a very complicated character and I suspect this was done intentionally to encourage the reader to consider who Linda is, or maybe what type of woman she should be.

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