Bliss

by

Katherine Mansfield

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Bliss can help.

Thirty-year old Bertha Young is overcome by a feeling of excitement, or “bliss,” while preparing to throw a dinner party for a group of her friends. Returning home in the afternoon before the party, Bertha thinks that, although she is an adult woman, she still has moments where she wants to “run instead of walk” or “take dancing steps” to express the great sense of joy that she is feeling. Bertha realizes that there is “no way” she can behave like this without being seen as “drunk and disorderly” and feels frustrated by this. Entering her house, Bertha asks her maid if the fruit she has ordered for the party has arrived on time. The maid tells her that it has, and Bertha says that she will go and arrange it before the guests arrive.

Once in the dining room, Bertha throws off her coat and looks at herself in the mirror, realizing that the feeling of “bliss” is still there and that it is growing stronger as the evening approaches. She feels as though she is waiting for something “divine” to happen. Bertha arranges the fruit on the dining room table, thinking about how she has chosen certain fruits in certain colors to match the décor of the room. Although she thinks this is “rather absurd,” she notes that it made sense to her earlier in the day, when she was picking out the fruit, and that the end result is “incredibly beautiful.” Beginning to laugh, she feels that she is growing “hysterical” and rushes upstairs to the nursery, where her daughter, Little B, is being cared for by her Nurse. Nurse tells Bertha what she and Little B have been doing all day and, although Bertha disapproves of the Nurse letting Little B play with a strange dog, she is too timid to complain to her about it. Bertha asks Nurse if she can finish giving Little B her supper. Nurse reluctantly agrees, and Bertha enjoys feeding her daughter, which fills her with the same feeling of “bliss” that she experiences when she thinks about the upcoming dinner party.

After feeding her daughter, Bertha thinks about the guests that she has invited to her party. She has invited Mr. Knight and Mrs. Knight, who are interested in theatre and interior design, a fashionable writer called Eddie Warren, and a “find” of Bertha’s called Pearl Fulton, whom Bertha has “fallen in love with, as she always did fall in love with beautiful women who had something strange about them.” Bertha thinks that she would like to get to know Pearl, but that Pearl is reserved and will not let people in beyond a certain point. Bertha wonders if there is anything more to Pearl’s character. Her husband Harry has said that he does not think so and has joked that there is nothing but “a good stomach” behind Pearl’s mysterious façade. Bertha likes Harry’s jokes and thinks fondly about how she admires this quality in her husband. While Bertha is putting the finishing touches to the drawing room, she is surprised to find herself passionately hugging one of the sofa cushions that she is arranging.

Bertha looks out of the window at her garden and admires the pear tree, which is glowing white under the moon. She thinks that the beautiful tree is a “symbol of her own life” and notes that the colors of the sky and tree match her outfit for the evening, even though she hasn’t planned this. She turns away from the window when she sees two cats crossing the lawn and the sight of them give her a shudder. She is almost overcome by happiness thinking about her life and is only roused from this state by the arrival of the Knights. Mrs. Knight tells Bertha that her colorful dress made people stare at her on the train. Eddie Warren then arrives and complains that his taxi driver was “most sinister” and that, in the moonlight, this driver seemed to have something “timeless” about him. Harry arrives late, and Bertha is so delighted with her guests that she almost forgets that Pearl Fulton has not yet arrived.

Finally, Pearl arrives, and the guests sit down to eat. Over dinner they discuss the theatre, as Eddie Warren and Norman Knight intend to write a play. Bertha thinks what a “decorative group” her guests make and feels almost overcome with tenderness for them. She is still thinking about the pear tree, which she thinks will have turned silver in the moonlight, like Pearl, who is dressed completely in silver. Looking at Pearl, Bertha feels that she knows exactly what Pearl is feeling and that the two of them have formed an unspoken connection, which sometimes happens between women but never between men. After dinner, Pearl asks Bertha if she has a garden and Bertha takes this as a “sign” of their connection. She takes Pearl to the window and shows her the pear tree. The two women look out over the garden and Bertha feels that she and Pearl understand each other perfectly.

Bertha and Pearl rejoin the others for coffee. Harry offers Pearl a cigar and Bertha thinks that his manner indicates that he really dislikes Pearl. Bertha has a moment of panic when she remembers that her guests will leave soon and she will be left alone with her husband, with whom she does not have a sexual relationship. She has “desired” him for the first time in her life that evening, however, and this slightly allays her fear. The guests begin to get ready to leave and, as Pearl goes into the hall to get her coat, Harry follows her. Bertha thinks gratefully that Harry is doing this to make amends for being rude to Pearl. She goes to get a book for Eddie Warren to borrow and, on her way past the hall, looks up and sees Harry with his arms around Pearl. They are smiling and whispering to each other about arranging a time to meet. Bertha goes back into the living room and gives the book to Eddie. Pearl and Eddie make to leave and, as Pearl is saying goodbye to Bertha she whispers, “Your lovely pear tree.” After they leave Harry goes to lock up and Bertha rushes to the window overlooking the garden, wondering what is going to happen next.