Bliss

by

Katherine Mansfield

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Bertha Young Character Analysis

The protagonist of the story, Bertha Young is a wealthy, middle class woman who is married to Harry and has a young daughter, Little B. Bertha is a sociable woman who seems to feel things very strongly and who wishes to be open about her emotions. She is prevented from approaching life in this frank way, however, because of the rules of propriety governing British society of the period. She does not have a bold or daring personality and, for this reason, has trouble questioning the authority of people around her or being honest about her own wishes. Nevertheless, Bertha tries hard to communicate with the people around her and expresses her internal desires through her external appearance as well as through the thoughtful way that she decorates her house. Bertha, who is also interested in modern social questions and contemporary artistic movements, attempts surround herself with interesting and informed companions. Although Bertha is extremely excited by her feelings for Pearl Fulton, a friend whom she has invited to her dinner party, Bertha comes across as sexually naïve and seemingly does not recognize her attraction to Pearl as romantic. Bertha’s sexual naivety, and potential homosexuality, also affects her relationship with her husband, with whom she avoids having a sexual relationship. Although Bertha is a grateful woman who works hard to be content with her life, she is burdened by the restrictive social conditions of the period she lives in and is often not able to recognize the true nature of her emotions.

Bertha Young Quotes in Bliss

The Bliss quotes below are all either spoken by Bertha Young or refer to Bertha Young. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Sexuality and Desire Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Bliss published in 1991.
Bliss Quotes

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at—nothing—at nothing, simply. What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss—absolute bliss!—as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe.

Related Characters: Bertha Young
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

Oh, is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly.” How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

Related Characters: Bertha Young
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She hardly dared to look into the cold mirror—but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big, dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something. . . divine to happen. . . that she knew must happen . . . infallibly.

Related Characters: Bertha Young
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

When she had finished with them and had made two pyramids of these bright round shapes, she stood away from the table to get the effect—and it really was most curious. For the dark table seemed to melt into the dusky light and the glass dish and the blue bowl to float in the air. This, of course in her present mood, was so incredibly beautiful. . . . She began to laugh. "No, no. I'm getting hysterical." And she seized her bag and coat and ran upstairs to the nursery.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker)
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

She stood watching them, her hands by her side, like the poor little girl in front of the rich little girl with the doll. The baby looked up at her again, stared, and then smiled so charmingly that Bertha couldn’t help crying: “Oh, Nanny, do let me finish giving her her supper while you put the bath things away.”

“Well, M'm, she oughtn't to be changed hands while she's eating,” said Nanny, still whispering. “It unsettles her; it’s very likely to upset her.”

How absurd it was. Why have a baby if it has to be kept—not in a case like a rare, rare fiddle-but in another woman's arms?

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Nurse (speaker), Little B
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

What Miss Fulton did, Bertha didn't know. They had met at the club and Bertha had fallen in love with her, as she always did fall in love with beautiful women who had something strange about them. The provoking thing was that, though they had been about together and met a number of times and really talked, Bertha couldn't yet make her out. Up to a certain point Miss Fulton was rarely, wonderfully frank, but the certain point was there, and beyond that she would not go.

Related Characters: Bertha Young, Pearl Fulton
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

Was there anything beyond it? Harry said “No.” Voted her dullish, and “cold like all blond women, with a touch, perhaps, of anemia of the brain.” But Bertha wouldn't agree with him; not yet, at any rate.

“No, the way she has of sitting with her head a little on one side, and smiling, has something behind it, Harry, and I must find out what that something is.”

“Most likely it's a good stomach,” answered Harry.

He made a point of catching Bertha's heels with replies of that kind . . . “liver frozen, my dear girl,” or “pure flatulence,” or “kidney disease”. . . and so on. For some strange reason Bertha liked this, and most admired it in him very much.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Harry Young (speaker), Pearl Fulton
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

The windows of the drawing-room opened on to a balcony overlooking the garden. At the far end, against the wall, there was a tall, slender pear tree in fullest, richest bloom; it stood perfect, as though becalmed against the jade-green sky. Bertha couldn't help feeling, even from this distance, that it had not a single bud or a faded petal. Down below, in the garden beds, the red and yellow tulips, heavy with flowers, seemed to lean upon the dusk. A grey cat, dragging its belly, crept across the lawn, and a black one, its shadow, trailed after. The sight of them, so intent and so quick, gave Bertha a curious shiver. “What creepy things cats are!” she stammered, and she turned away from the window and began walking up and down. . . .

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Pearl Fulton
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree, Cats
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

And she seemed to see on her eyelids the lovely pear tree with its wide open blossoms as a symbol of her own life. Really—really—she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever, and they got on together splendidly and were really good pals. She had an adorable baby. They didn’t have to worry, about money. . .

“I'm absurd. Absurd!” She sat up; but she felt quite dizzy, quite drunk. It must have been the spring. Yes, it was the spring. Now she was so tired she could not drag herself upstairs to dress. A white dress, a string of jade beads, green shoes and stockings. It wasn't intentional. She had thought of this scheme hours before she stood at the drawing-room window.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Harry Young
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree
Page Number: 147-148
Explanation and Analysis:

And then Miss Fulton, all in silver, with a silver fillet binding her pale blond hair, came in smiling, her head a little on one side. “Am I late?”

“No, not at all,” said Bertha. “Come along.” And she took her arm and they moved into the dining-room. What was there in the touch of that cool arm that could fan—fan—start blazing – blazing – the fire of bliss that Bertha did not know what to do with. Miss Fulton did not look at her; but then she seldom did look at people directly… But Bertha knew, suddenly, as if the longest, most intimate look had passed between them—as if they had said to each other: “You, too”—that Pearl Fulton, stirring the beautiful red soup in the grey plate, was feeling just what she was feeling.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Pearl Fulton (speaker)
Related Symbols: Moonlight
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

At that moment Miss Fulton “gave the sign.”

“Have you a garden?” said the cool, sleepy voice. This was so exquisite on her part that all Bertha could do was to obey. She crossed the room, pulled the curtains apart, and opened those long windows. “There!” she breathed. And the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering tree. Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed—almost to touch the rim of the round, silver moon. How long did they stand there? Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Pearl Fulton (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree, Moonlight
Page Number: 152-153
Explanation and Analysis:

At those last words something strange and almost terrifying darted into Bertha's mind. And this something blind and smiling whispered to her: “Soon these people will go— The house will be quiet—quiet. The lights will be out. And you and he will be alone together in the dark room—the warm bed.”— She jumped up from her chair and ran over to the piano. “What a pity someone does not play!” she cried. “What a pity somebody does not play.”

For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband. Oh, she'd loved him – she'd been in love with him, of course, in every other way, but just not in that way.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Pearl Fulton, Harry Young
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

While he looked it up she turned her head towards the hall. And she saw . . . Harry with Miss Fulton's coat in his arms and Miss Fulton with her back turned to him and her head bent. He tossed the coat away, put his hands on her shoulders and turned her violently to him. His lips said: “I adore you,” and Miss Fulton laid her moonbeam fingers on his cheeks and smiled her sleepy smile. Harry's nostrils quivered; his lips curled back in a hideous grin while he whispered: “To-morrow,” and with her eyelids Miss Fulton said: “Yes.”

“Here it is,” said Eddie. “‘Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?’ So deeply true, don't you feel? Tomato soup is so dreadfully eternal.”

“If you prefer,” said Harry's voice, very loud, from the hall, “I can phone you a cab to come to the door.”

Related Characters: Harry Young (speaker), Eddie Warren (speaker), Bertha Young, Pearl Fulton
Related Symbols: Moonlight
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Fulton held her hand a moment longer. “Your lovely pear tree!” she murmured. And then she was gone, with Eddie following, like the black cat following the grey cat.

“I'll shut up shop,” said Harry, extravagantly cool and collected.

“Your lovely pear tree—pear tree—pear tree!” Bertha simply ran over to the long windows.

“Oh, what is going to happen now?” she cried.

But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flower and as still.

Related Characters: Bertha Young (speaker), Pearl Fulton (speaker), Harry Young (speaker), Eddie Warren
Related Symbols: The Pear Tree, Cats
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
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Bliss PDF

Bertha Young Character Timeline in Bliss

The timeline below shows where the character Bertha Young appears in Bliss. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Bliss
Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
Even though Bertha Young is nearly thirty, she still sometimes feels the urge to “run instead of walk,”... (full context)
Women’s Roles and Social Constraint Theme Icon
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Bertha thinks that civilized society is “idiotic” because, if she were to act as she liked... (full context)
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Bertha arrives home and asks her maid if the fruit that she has ordered has been... (full context)
Sexuality and Desire Theme Icon
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The maid brings in the fruit for Bertha to arrange. Bertha looks at the beautiful colors of the fruit, which she has chosen... (full context)
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In the nursery, Nurse is feeding Bertha’s infant daughter, Little B, her supper. When the baby sees Bertha, she gets excited and... (full context)
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Little B smiles at Bertha and Bertha is so delighted that she can no longer contain herself and begs Nurse... (full context)
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Nurse re-enters the nursery and tells Bertha that someone is on the phone for her. Bertha hands Little B back over to... (full context)
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The Youngs have people coming over for dinner. Bertha thinks about the guests she has invited: “the Norman Knights” and Eddie Warren. Mr. Norman... (full context)
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Women’s Roles and Social Constraint Theme Icon
Although Bertha has met Pearl several times and has had long conversations with her, Bertha still feels... (full context)
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Bertha’s husband Harry feels that there is not, and that Pearl is, in fact, cold and... (full context)
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Bertha goes into the drawing room and begins arranging the sofa cushions. As she does this,... (full context)
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The window in the drawing room looks out over the garden. Bertha looks out of the window at the pear tree on the lawn and admires it... (full context)
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Bertha turns away from the window and paces the room. She feels overwhelmed by the scent... (full context)
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Lying on the sofa, Bertha thinks about all the wonderful things that she has that should make her happy with... (full context)
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Women’s Roles and Social Constraint Theme Icon
Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
...orange coat decorated with a pattern of monkeys. As she enters the house, she tells Bertha that her coat has caused a stir on the train and that people were so... (full context)
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Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
...Eddie Warren’s white socks, he tells her that they have grown whiter in the moonlight. Bertha feels that Eddie is a very attractive person. (full context)
Women’s Roles and Social Constraint Theme Icon
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Harry arrives and rushes upstairs to get dressed for dinner. Bertha knows that Harry is not really worried about being late but that he enjoys making... (full context)
Sexuality and Desire Theme Icon
Enjoying the company of her guests, Bertha almost forgets that Pearl Fulton is still to arrive. When Pearl does arrive, Bertha tells... (full context)
Sexuality and Desire Theme Icon
Pearl Fulton enters the party. Her outfit is all silver and she asks Bertha if she is late. Bertha says no and takes Pearl’s arm. When she does this,... (full context)
Sexuality and Desire Theme Icon
Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
During the dinner, Bertha feels an inexplicable certainty that Pearl is feeling the same way that she is. The... (full context)
Sexuality and Desire Theme Icon
Women’s Roles and Social Constraint Theme Icon
Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
...is “Face,” describes the burned down fire as a “nest of baby phoenixes.” Pearl asks Bertha to show her the garden and Bertha feels that this is a “sign.” Bertha takes... (full context)
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Women’s Roles and Social Constraint Theme Icon
Bertha loses track of how long she and Pearl stand by the window but feels that... (full context)
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Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
The light in the room is switched on, breaking the spell that Bertha feels she is under. The other guests are in the room and are making coffee.... (full context)
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Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
Pearl sits down, and Harry offers her a cigar. Bertha watches and thinks that, from the way that he is talking to her, Harry is... (full context)
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As she thinks this, Bertha suddenly remembers that the guests will leave soon, and that she will be left alone... (full context)
Aesthetics, Appearance, and Performance Theme Icon
...a taxi. Pearl goes to get her coat from the hall and Harry follows her. Bertha thinks that he is trying to make amends for being rude to Pearl. Eddie asks... (full context)
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Bertha says that she does have this book and goes to get it for Eddie Warren.... (full context)
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Bertha returns to the drawing room and hears Harry say loudly that he can call Pearl... (full context)
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Harry goes to lock up the house and Bertha rushes to the window. She wonders what is going to happen next and looks out... (full context)