The Daughters of the Late Colonel


Katherine Mansfield

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The Daughters of the Late Colonel Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Katherine Mansfield's The Daughters of the Late Colonel. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield (born Katherine Beauchamp) was born into a wealthy, socially-connected New Zealand family that included her grandfather Arthur Beauchamp, a Member of New Zealand Parliament, her father Harold Beauchamp, a prominent New Zealand banker, and the novelist Elizabeth von Armin, her cousin and an acclaimed modernist writer in her own right. However, life in the Beauchamp family was often unstable: Katherine and her four siblings moved around New Zealand in childhood, interacting frequently with the native Maori people (Mansfield is known for her sympathetic depictions of Maori characters in her fiction). Eventually, Beauchamp moved to London to attend Queen’s College, later returning to New Zealand in the first few years of the twentieth century, when she began to write the short stories that would make her famous. She took the pseudonym “K. Mansfield,” then returned to London, where she became embedded in the avant-garde literary scene. Mansfield began a relationship with John Middleton Murry, the editor of Rhythm, a “little magazine” highlighting literature and the arts. Among the many tragedies in Mansfield’s life—she miscarried a child in 1909 and struggled with her attraction to and affairs with women—none was as influential as the death of her younger brother Leslie Beauchamp, a soldier in France during World War I. Mansfield wrote voraciously after Leslie’s death, compelled by this trauma to reflect on her childhood in New Zealand with her siblings. In 1916, the Hogarth Press, led by Leonard and Virginia Woolf, published one of her most well-known stories, a semi-autobiographical narrative entitled “Prelude” about a New Zealand family. Mansfield died of causes related to tuberculosis in 1923, though her diagnosis did not prevent her from producing a number of acclaimed works in her last years, including two collections of short stories (Bliss and The Garden Party). Mansfield is remembered as a stalwart of avant-garde modernism and a keen observer of modern strife and fragmentation. Her stories variously approach issues of sexuality, familial relationships, and class and gender hierarchies with shrewd insight.
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Historical Context of The Daughters of the Late Colonel

Though World War I is not mentioned in “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” its effects are felt in the story. As Europe grappled with the aftershocks of loss and trauma, families—not unlike the Pinner clan—disintegrated, and traditional values came under severe pressure. Though Constantia and Josephine are unable to find a place in the world without their male relatives, their tentative desire for freedom and independence reflects the burgeoning women’s rights and women’s suffrage movements in the United Kingdom, which sought to implement equal rights for British women. Although Mansfield did not personally support these movements, “The Daughters of the Late Colonel” expresses a uniquely female longing for power and individuality—one shared by the suffragettes. Additionally, Mansfield’s story briefly reflects on British colonialism, offering a sustained critique of the colonial mentality: the Pinner patriarchs work in Ceylon, a British colony, and slave labor is mentioned, suggesting that patriarchy, colonialism, and oppression are intimately related (and perhaps mutually reinforcing).

Other Books Related to The Daughters of the Late Colonel

Mansfield’s stories “The Woman at the Store” (1912), “The Little Governess” (1915), “Prelude” (1918), and “Miss Brill” (1920) depict female characters who suffer under patriarchy, like Constantia and Josephine Pinner, the main characters in “The Daughters of the Late Colonel.” For all of these women, their identities are questioned and their liberty is restricted by male figures in their lives; Mansfield’s stories frequently elucidate questions of gender, patriarchal tyranny, and female suffering. Furthermore, Jean Rhys’s novels, published in roughly the same era—including Quartet (1929), After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie (1931), Voyage in the Dark(1934), and Good Morning, Midnight (1939)—have often been compared to Mansfield’s for their perspective on dominance, despair, and rootlessness in women’s lives. In terms of form and content, Mansfield’s stories resonate significantly with those of the Russian author Anton Chekhov; indeed, Mansfield often cited Chekhov as a major influence on her work. Like Chekhov, also an innovator of the short story, Mansfield frequently explored class relations and societal divisions in her work, including “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” in which the wealthy, upper-class Pinner sisters struggle to assert authority over their servants. In both Chekhov and Mansfield’s work, profound insight is gleaned from concise, self-contained narratives that cast a discerning gaze on the contemporary world.
Key Facts about The Daughters of the Late Colonel
  • Full Title: The Daughters of the Late Colonel
  • When Written: 1920
  • Where Written: Menton, France
  • When Published: 1921
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Short story
  • Setting: An apartment in an unidentified English town
  • Climax: Constantia and Josephine fail to open their father’s wardrobe and go through his belongings.
  • Antagonist: The late colonel, Constantia and Josephine’s father
  • Point of View: Third person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Daughters of the Late Colonel

Writing from life. Mansfield’s friend and occasional lover, Ida Baker, is said to have served as inspiration for Constantia Pinner—likely reflecting Mansfield’s own fraught relationship with Baker, whom she idolized and criticized in equal measure in her letters to friends. Mansfield based the colonel on Baker’s father, a doctor in the Indian army and a source of conflict and tyranny in Baker’s life.

Famous praise. The acclaimed British novelist Thomas Hardy sent Mansfield praise for “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” entreating her to write more about the Pinner sisters in the future. Mansfield was flattered but thought that Hardy had misinterpreted the story: “as if there was any more to say!” she wrote to her friend, the British painter Dorothy Brett.