The Doll’s House


Katherine Mansfield

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The Doll’s House Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Katherine Mansfield's The Doll’s House. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Katherine Mansfield

Katherine Mansfield was born Kathleen Beauchamp in New Zealand to a prominent English family in New Zealand. Much of her childhood was spent in the small, country village of Karori, where she was educated in a village school alongside the children of housekeepers, milkmen, and other lower-class children, just like the Burnell sisters in “The Doll’s House.” At fourteen, she was sent to England to continue her education, studying at Queen’s Collage, Harley Street. On returning to New Zealand in 1906, she found life in a small colonial town stifling and unpleasant. She longed to escape the narrowness of her privileged upbringing and return to London, what she considered the center of intellectual and artistic life. She left New Zealand for good in 1908 to make a name for herself as a writer. Once in London, she fell in with a group of other artists and bohemians and began submitting manuscripts to editors. Mansfield was met with early success, publishing stories in journals such as The New Age, Rhythm, and The Blue Review, while also managing to publish her first collection of short stories In a German Pension in 1911. It was only at the death of her younger brother during the war in 1915 that she turned to New Zealand as a source of inspiration for her writing. She used her childhood memories as fodder for many of her most famous stories, including “Prelude” and “The Garden Party.” In 1917, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and spent the final years of her life traveling in search of healthier climates and writing prolifically, a desperate attempt to put down all that she had to express before she would eventually succumb to disease. She was most prolific in these final years, writing more than forty stories and several more unfinished works before her early death at the age of 34. Her husband, editor and critic John Middleton Murry, published many of her stories posthumously in “The Dove’s Nest” (1923) and “Something Childish” (1924). Mansfield’s work helpef developed the form of the short story in English literature she is still hailed as a master of precise feeling and psychological depth in her writing. 
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Historical Context of The Doll’s House

While no one in Europe was utterly untouched by the scourge of the First World War, Katherine Mansfield was personally affected when her dear younger brother, Leslie Heron Beauchamp, was killed in 1915 just weeks after arriving at the front. Mansfield had met with her brother in London before he shipped out and they talked for hours of their happiest years together as children. Upon news of Leslie’s death, Mansfield longed to return to a childhood that was ignorant of the awful events that shook Europe and the world. She felt she owed it to her brother to use her writing to recreate the New Zealand of her childhood. She wrote, “I have a duty to perform to the lovely time when we were both alive. I want to write about it and he [her brother] wanted me to.” Mansfield’s “The Doll’s House” is directly autobiographical in many ways, taking place in a village town just like the one the Beauchamp family moved to when Katherine was just a girl.

Other Books Related to The Doll’s House

“The Doll’s House” continues the story of the Burnell family, which Mansfield began to chronicle in “Prelude,” her longest story that recalls her own childhood memories in the New Zealand countryside, and continues in “At the Bay.” Her story “The Garden Party” explores similar themes of class division in a New Zealand village, particularly the coarseness of the wealthy towards the lower classes. Mansfield’s luxurious descriptions of the doll’s house towards the beginning of the story were likely influenced by her teenage admiration for Irish poet, playwright, and novelist Oscar Wilde. That Mansfield seems to care so deeply about the lower classes likely stems from her ardent love of Anton Chekov, who wrote many stories about Russian peasants. James Joyce’s Ulysses, a definitive modernist masterpiece, often includes dialogue that is not attributed to any one character in particular yet adds to the general noise of the episode being depicted, much in the same way that Mansfield uses dialogue in “The Doll’s House.” The episodic and somewhat haphazard narration is another modernist feature Mansfield shares with other writers of her time, namely her friend and rival, Virginia Woolf, whose novels, To The Lighthouse, The Waves, and The Voyage Out employ similarly episodic structures.
Key Facts about The Doll’s House
  • Full Title: “The Doll’s House”
  • When Written: 1922
  • When Published: 1922 (first published in The Nation and Athenaeum on February 4, 1922, later appearing in the 1923 collection The Dove’s Nest)
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Short story, modernism
  • Setting: A small, countryside village
  • Climax: In a moment of cruelty and excitement, Lena Logan screams, “Yah, yer father’s in prison!” at the Kelvey sisters in the schoolyard.
  • Antagonist: Aunt Beryl, Class Prejudice
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for The Doll’s House

Friendship and Rivalry with Virginia Woolf. Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield were friends and rivals for many years. After Mansfield’s death, Woolf wrote in her diary, "I was jealous of her writing—the only writing I have ever been jealous of.” Though Woolf is still the more prominent in English letters, she was, when she first met Mansfield, quite intimidated by the young New Zealander who had already made something of a name for herself in England. When the two first met, Mansfield had written and published a number of short stories, whereas Woolf had only published her first novel, The Voyage Out. In 1918 Virginia and her husband, Leonard published Mansfield’s longest story, “Prelude,” the first commission for their new Hogarth Press.

Love of Music. Katherine Mansfield was an accomplished cellist. According to her husband, Mansfield even spent time playing with traveling opera troupes when she needed money upon her return to London in 1909 and worked as an entertainer at private parties.