Analytical review of Armine Mortimer’s “Fortifications of desire: reading the second story in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’”

Armine Mortimer is examining the details behind the second story in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’. Corroboration comes from the functioning language in the text rather than the language spoken by, the protagonist, Bertha as she is “lacking knowledge; they are in the position of the analysand” (Mortimer, 1994). An analysand is defined as a person undergoing psychoanalysis. Armine Mortimer’s essay is predominantly clear and concise, however there are some paragraphs that can be read as confusing and nonsensical to a beginner in academia. This essay will review its composition and literary style. Furthermore, it will be established whether it is a successful literary critical essay. This essay starts with a fast, sharp sentence that grabs your attention straight away which encourages and compels the reader to read on. For example,

When the heroine of Mansfield’s well-known, extraordinary short story discovers her husband’s infidelity less than a page before the end, a second story untold in the first but necessary to its meaning erupts into the narrative, to a devastating effect (Mortimer, 1994).

Also, contained in this first paragraph is a definition of the literary term the second story which additionally describes the effects and ramifications this has on the reader. The introduction continues with comparing Hemingway’s iceberg principle to the discipline Katherine Mansfield injected in writing her short stories. Fundamentally the iceberg only ever reveals one-eighth above water meaning that ‘Bliss’ mirrored this concept. The reason being that Katherine Mansfield had to omit material and this is evident because the second story existed. Armine Mortimer is fundamentally arguing that the second story is a barrier to protect the additional details that Katherine Mansfield excluding from the story. This first section of the essay is persuasive and resilient as it evidently makes the reader connect all the parts to enhance a wider understanding. Armine Mortimer finishes this paragraph by suggesting the reader to contemplate what can be learnt from Bertha and especially how this story has impacted on them. This is an ambiguous proposition as the answers can vary depending on the reader and how everyone interprets the story. Moreover, this first part of the essay is extremely educational and a necessity to the text. Without this the reader, may not fully understand the literary concepts and essentially may not be prepared to be open-minded and process other possibilities.

A large part of the following paragraphs is about the events in ‘Bliss’. Armine Mortimer is suggesting that as a first-time reader we focus on Bertha’s desires and emotional state so that when the second story is revealed, it is unexpected and the reader has been naïve until this point. Whether this is deemed as a positive or a negative statement – it is up to interpretation but for a short story to be shocking at the very end of the narrative indicates some exceptional and impressive writing. Therefore, it can be argued that it is a positive declaration as the reader can justify being naïve for a limited time to benefit greatly at the end of the experience. However, this cannot be said about this essay from this section as in effect it is just storytelling and it is acceptable if you have never read the story ‘Bliss’ before but if you have, then it shows no more insight or understanding. Not even an argument or corroborating evidence is suggested or inferred here.

The next part of the essay then starts to develop into a more critical understanding of the second story and Armine Mortimer extracts supporting evidence from the text and explains them with good arguments. Armine Mortimer suggests these extracts are hints to the second story and they only become apparent when you read it an additional time – as the first time they are completely overlooked. Further suggested points come from more literary concepts, like the use of satire and symbolism. However, the next paragraph is mostly in French quotes which is not necessary and not suitable to the remainder of the essay. The long summary is predominately about a French psychiatrist – Lacan who described deviations in fortified walls. The language is difficult to understand and the translation from French to English is not accurate. This is not comprehensible unless you are a specialist in this field and the radical overuse of nouns consecutively is difficult to process for example “displacement, disavowal, division, and deadening” (Mortimer, 1994). This makes the paragraph heavy and the end can simply not come quick enough. Armine Mortimer goes further on to explain the “Lacanian instant” (Mortimer, 1994). This is basically when “desire is the desire of the other” (Mortimer, 1994). This is evident in ‘Bliss’ as the narrative explains “For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband” (Mansfield, 2006, p78). This is a misrecognition of desire as Bertha does not the origin of her desires as she has never experienced this before with her husband. Therefore, the desire has been misplaced. This is the only interesting and educational point in this section, which will not be immediately recognisable. However, after an enormous amount of reading and research an understanding can be achieved if the French quotes go ignored.

Armine Mortimer suggests “Bertha is not allowed to recognise the censor that guards the door of insight; that role is strictly the reader’s” (Mortimer, 1994). This means that the reader is only aware of the secrets and that the fortification is in place to protect Katherine Mansfield’s left out material. Furthermore, the fortification also protects Bertha from her own desires. Armine Mortimer concludes that each reader will answer and interpret ‘Bliss’ in their own means but they must choose to accept that it is the function of language that makes the reader more knowledgeable. To conclude Armine Mortimer’s essay is mainly written clear and concise and a non-academia can appreciate the critical and analytical understanding of the short story ‘Bliss’, especially the fortification of desire and the understanding of the second story. However, the essay is long with repeated points that include story-telling. Armine Mortimer is clearly passionate about Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’ and this is evident in the language and the high level of knowledge of the second story. Improvements could be made on this essay and they include: condensing the word count, removal of the French quotes and editing the storytelling paragraphs. However, overall it is an adequate literary critical essay which can be enjoyed and appreciated by all who recognise Katherine Mansfield.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boehmer, E. (2011) Mansfield as Colonial Modernist: Difference Within. In: Kimber, G. and Wilson, J. (eds). Celebrating Katherine Mansfield. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mansfield, K. (2006). Bliss. In: The Collected Stories. London: Wordsworth Classics. p69-80.

Mortimer, A. (1994). Fortifications of Desire: Reading the Second Story in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’ in Narrative. [Online] 2 (1). p.41–52. Available from: http://www.jstor.org [Accessed 17/12/2016].

New, W. (1999) Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Form. [Online] California: Mqup. Available from: http://www.ebrary.com [Accessed: 17/12/2016].

 

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