A Blaze by Katherine Mansfield

In A Blaze by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of friendship, trust, uncertainty, defeat and love. Taken from her In a German Pension collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of friendship. Victor and Max are close friends. Close enough at least to holiday together and to trust one another. So Victor might think. At no stage in the story does it appear that Victor is aware of any romantic liaison between Max and Elsa. He does not appear to know that Max is very much in love with Elsa and is prepared to alter his friendship with Victor in order to pursue a relationship with Elsa. Elsa on the other hand appears to like the attention she gets from Max though she is non-committal when it comes to a relationship with him.

This may be significant as Mansfield may be suggesting or allowing for Elsa to leave the door open on a relationship with Max. She sees no reason for her to change the status quo of their relationship. However Max, who has difficulty controlling his emotions, feels that Elsa should leave Victor and at least admit to Max that she loves him. Something that Elsa declines to do throughout the story. It is as though Elsa does not wish to leave the comforts that come with marriage behind her and risk starting afresh with Max. She most likely is only too well aware that society may frown upon her activities should she commit herself to Max. The fact that Mansfield has also portrayed Max as the weaker of the two is interesting as it turns the tables on the perceived norms of the time. In whereby women were considered to be emotional. In the story it is a sulking Max who is emotional because Elsa will not tell him that she loves him. It may also be a case that Max is dependent on Elsa in order to validate himself. He wants his love to be reciprocated and as such he is ignoring his friendship with Victor. At the time, and still today, extra marital affairs would be frowned upon.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. Elsa’s hotel room is luxurious and in many ways mirrors the life she lives. At no stage does the reader sense that Elsa is anything other than upper middle class and has the benefit of Victor’s money. To say that Elsa lives comfortably is an understatement. She is where she is because of Victor’s money and she knows this. This might explain as to why Elsa is so keen not to be open about her relationship with Max. She knows that Max cannot give her the same comforts that she is used to. The tiger rug with the piano sitting a top of it might also be important as it can be likened to Max’s plight. Just as the tiger is dead and not able to move. So too is Max. He is unable to let go or move on from his relationship with Elsa. He simply cannot admit defeat such is the power of the emotions that he feels.

The end of the story is interesting in so far as there is no change when it comes to Elsa’s motives. She remains guilt free and has an extraordinary ability to continue to pull the wool over a clueless Victor. Nothing changes in Elsa’s life. This may very well include the fact that Max has not really terminated his relationship with Elsa. Being emotional he storms out of the room and leaves but more importantly he does not tell Elsa he no longer will love her. It is as though Max is trapped or at least may have trapped himself in the game that he plays. A game that Elsa will continue to play whether with Max or any other man she may feel she has the ability to romance. In reality Elsa is a strong-minded woman who has the ability to love more than one man. Though the reader is left thinking that perhaps it would be more appropriate for Elsa to end her relationship with Victor, prior to having another relationship with another man.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "A Blaze by Katherine Mansfield." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 17 Jul. 2020. Web.

One comment

  • I was so pleased to find your blog and see your recent review on Katherine Mansfield’s short story “A Blaze.” I am a long-standing fan of her work that has been so inspiring in my own writing career. So much so that I spent a few years researching her life and then wrote a bio-novel, “Katherine Mansfield.” I am releasing a 10th Anniversary Edition of KM in the fall. I would love to send you a copy, if you are interested.

    all my best,

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