Part 2 of
The Inability to Appreciate--What does It come From?
Story Criticizes Snobbishness
A story that usefully
shows how a woman's snobbish values hurt not only her life, but those of
people close to her is "The Garden Party," by the important 20th century
British writer, born in New Zealand, Katherine Mansfield.
It takes place in
one day and focuses around the various arrangements being made for an elaborate
garden party to be given by the wealthy young Sheridan girls Laura, Meg,
and Jose. Laura, who is the main character, represents the ethical conflict
all people have, which Mr. Siegel explained in The Right of Aesthetic
Realism to Be Known #60:
Since man as an individual is first impelled
towards feeling good, feathering the nest of his singular felicity, the
desire to see other things, other living beings, is secondary.
This makes for a contest between the desire to soothe oneself ...make oneself
distinguishedly belligerent, and the desire to see justly, comprehensively,
The story begins with
a description of an exquisite early summer day, of cloudless sky, fresh
mowed lawns and hundreds of roses all abloom. Workmen have
come to set up a marquee and Laura, who is supervising it, is in a contest
between the desire to "make [her]self distinguishedly belligerent and "the
desire to see justly." Mansfield writes:
"Good morning," she said, copying her mother's
voice. But that sounded so fearfully affected that she was
ashamed, and stammered like a little girl, "Oh--er--have you come--is it
about the marquee?" "That's right, miss," said the tallest of the
men, a lanky, freckled fellow, and he shifted his tool-bag, knocked back
his straw hat and smiled down at her....What nice eyes he had,...How very
nice workmen were!
When Laura sees one of the men bend down to pinch
a sprig of lavender and enjoy its fragrance, she is taken by his tenderness,
and wonders why she can't be friends with workmen. "It's all
the fault, she decided,...of these absurd class distinctions.
Well, for her part, she didn't feel them...."
Then, Laura learns
from the man who has delivered the cream puffs, that there has been a terrible
accident: a man by the name of Scott, who lived nearby was thrown off his
horse. "Killed.... left a wife and five little ones."
Laura, horrified, runs to tell her sister Jose that they have to stop the
party. Jose says: "Stop the garden party? My dear
Laura, don't be so absurd. Of course we can't do anything of the kind.
Nobody expects us to. Don't be so extravagant."
"A person with snobbery," Mr. Siegel explains:
Laura says to Jose "But
we can't possibly have a garden-party with a man dead just outside the
front gate." Miss Mansfield writes:
doesn't ask, doesn't keep on asking, whether
an object or person deserves a certain attitude or feeling.
The question is, what will happen to me if I feel this way or that way,
say this or that? In looking at matters this way, the person with snobbery
has defiled his own individuality, befouled the true idea of self."
"True, [the little cottages] were far too
near. They were the greatest possible eyesore, and they had
no right to be in that neighbourhood at all. They were little
mean dwellings painted a chocolate brown. In the garden patches there was
nothing but cabbage stalks, sick hens and tomato cans. The
very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty-stricken.
Little rags and shreds of smoke, so unlike the great silvery plumes that
uncurled from the Sheridans' chimneys. Washerwomen lived in
the lane and sweeps and a cobbler,... Children swarmed."
In Katherine Mansfield's
courageous narrative she has us see these people as real and feel
ashamed at how some people are being forced to live. She makes
vivid the horrible inequity of some people having great opulence and others
Laura tries to put
herself in the position of the woman who has lost her husband.
She says to Jose, "And just think of what the band would sound like to
that poor woman." But Jose is getting increasingly indignant,
"If you're going to stop a band playing every
time some one has an accident, you'll lead a very strenuous life....Her
eyes hardened. ..."You won't bring a drunken workman back to life by being
sentimental," she said softly."
Jose is such an exemplification of that ugly,
contemptuous desire in a person to do all kinds of fancy footwork, even
lie, in order to feel justified in feeling superior and having one's way.
Laura, furious at
Jose, runs to tell her mother. Mrs. Sheridan is at her dressing
table trying on a new hat, when Laura comes in, "breathless, half-choking,"
and tells her of the man's death saying "Of course, we can't have our party,
can we?" Laura is shocked that her mother "seemed amused."
In a chilling way but ever so ordinary too, Mrs. Sheridan tries to rationalize
not having to think about the Scott family at all. She says:
"But, my dear child,...it's only by accident
we've heard of it. If some one had died there normally--and
I can't understand how they keep alive in those poky little holes--we should
still be having our party, shouldn't we?" Laura had to say
"yes" to that, but she felt it was all wrong.
Mr. Siegel explains:
"Mother, isn't it
really terribly heartless of us?" she asked. "Darling!" Mrs.
Sheridan got up and came over to her, carrying the hat. Before
Laura could stop her she had popped it on. "My child!" said
her mother, "the hat is yours. It's made for you....I have never seen you
look such a picture. Look at yourself!"
"Flattery is so useful; and it is still
so intricately, darksomely pernicious. Domestic life is, so
much of it, cajoling approval." [TRO 60]
flattery has gotten Laura's mind off thinking about what is fair to the
Scott family. She leaves her mother's room and goes into her
"There, quite by chance, the first thing
she saw was this charming girl in the mirror, in her black hat trimmed
with gold daisies, and a long black velvet ribbon. Never had
she imagined she could look like that. Is mother right? she thought. And
now she hoped her mother was right."
I believe Mr. Siegel explains what is working
in Laura when he writes:
"We use others to back up our frailest,
most useless, most hurtful notions. We are all looking for
confirmation of an opinion, chiefly so when we are not sure it is right."
The hat is a symbol
of how easily we can choose something so small in behalf of our vanity.
Yet snobbishness, I learned, has its large, mind-weakening disadvantages--we
cannot like ourselves, or have true, big, sweeping feelings of respect
that we yearn to have.
page, the conclusion