Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Form

Description

215 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
$55.00
ISBN 0-7735-1791-X
DDC 823

Author

Year

1999

Contributor

Elisabeth Anne MacDonald-Murray is an assistant professor of English at
the University of Western Ontario.

Review

In his study of the often-neglected New Zealand writer Katherine
Mansfield, W.H. New challenges the prevailing critical assumptions that
have informed earlier readings of her work, and in so doing he questions
the very strategies by which a reader approaches and evaluates a text.
Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Form posits that readers are trained
to bring to a text certain specific critical expectations and desires
that determine how that text is read and interpreted. New argues that
these critical predispositions cause works and writers that do not fit
within the framework of specific literary expectations to be dismissed
as inconsequential and marginal. Thus, only through a process of
unlearning traditional reading strategies that focus on the writer and
her cultural context, and of learning alternative strategies that focus
on new approaches to form and narrative, can readers question and reject
the static notions of canon and received critical opinion.

New begins his reassessment of Mansfield’s short fiction by reviewing
earlier critical responses to Mansfield and her works, and examining the
assumptions and expectations that underlie the various patterns of
criticism that emerge. He asserts that Mansfield’s literary reputation
in the past has depended as much on her cultural status as a colonial
and a woman as on the failure of her writing to fit within the
prevailing framework of literary expectations. Having pointed to the
failure of conventional reading strategies to recognize Mansfield’s
untraditional focus on formal rather than narrative design in her
writings, New goes on to propose a new reading strategy that closely
examines what he describes as the “shapes of language” that she
employs. These new strategies of reading are finally applied to close
readings of selected stories that illustrate New’s assertion that
Mansfield portrays her narrative as much in the act of writing as in the
plot.

Although New rejects the possibility that his argument proposes a new
theory of narratology—indeed, he largely rejects critical theories as
reactionary abstractions that obscure meaning and merely create new
conventions and expectations—his musings on the possibility of
adopting new reading strategies (strategies that respond to what the
author writes as opposed to what the reader expects) will introduce
readers to new avenues beyond the constraints of theory and canon.

Citation

New, W.H., “Reading Mansfield and Metaphors of Form,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/780.