The Sister of the Baroness by Katherine Mansfield
In The Sister of the Baroness by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of appearance, identity, self-importance, class and escape. Taken from her In a German Pension collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed English woman and after reading the story the reader realises that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of appearance. With the exception of the narrator all the visitors at the Pension are in awe of the Baroness’ sister. Due to her nobility they associate her with an honour that is not deserving considering that the Baroness’ sister is in fact not actually the Baroness’ sister but the daughter of the dressmaker to the Baroness. It is also interesting that both the poet and the student devote their time to the dressmaker’s daughter as they are swayed not by the dressmaker’s daughter herself but by the fact that they believe her to be of nobility. This may be important as Mansfield may be suggesting that at the time the story was written class and nobility were important to people. To associate oneself with a person who is perceived to be of a better class might have been seen to have been beneficial to a person.
It is also unlikely that either the poet or the student would associate themselves with the dressmaker’s daughter should they be aware of her true identity. Socially it would have been of no benefit to them and as such they may have decided to place their focus elsewhere. The poet in particular takes a keen interest in the dressmaker’s daughter even going as far as writing a poem for her. This might be important as Mansfield may be suggesting that some men will become so in awe or wrapped up in social positioning that they will commit themselves fully to the task of attempting to better themselves by way of association with someone of a higher class. Similarly the student appears to be biding his time before he reaches out to the dressmaker’s daughter. Though he is only seen with her near the end of the story. He is a keen observer of everything that the dressmaker’s daughter is doing. It would appear that he too like the poet is swayed by the idea that he may court nobility or that nobility may actually take an interest in him. Which would play on the theme of self-importance.
It is as though both the poet and the student look upon the dressmaker’s daughter as being someone who will help elevate them socially. As to whether either man is physically attracted to the dressmaker’s daughter is difficult to say as the reader suspects in some way that the narrator may be a little bit bias. She of all the characters in the story is not impressed by the dressmaker’s daughter. It may be a case that she views nobility as it should be viewed. That those of noble birth are in reality no different to anybody else. Something that is not as clear to the other visitors to the Pension. It is also noticeable that the narrator is on the outside looking in. Something that is symbolically noticeable by the fact that she is the only foreigner staying at the Pension. Also she is somewhat isolated by the Pension manager when he asks her can he remove the picture from her room. It is as though the manager is suggesting that the dressmaker’s daughter and the Baroness’ daughter are more worthy to have the picture in their room. Something that would play on class distinction.
The end of the story is also interesting because it is only at the end that the reader gets a clear insight into the dressmaker’s daughter’s identity. Rather than spending her time working or minding the Baroness’ daughter it would appear that the dressmaker’s daughter has decided it would be better to spend her time under the illusion that she is somebody she is not. As to why she might do this is difficult to say. However it is possible that the life of a dressmaker’s daughter is not as exciting as that of the life of the sister of a Baroness. If anything the dressmaker’s daughter might have chosen to escape from the reality of her life. A life in whereby she is answerable to others. At least as the sister of a Baroness the spotlight or focus would be placed on her. Something that obviously happens in the story with both the poet and the student vying for the dressmaker’s daughter’s attention. The fact that the dressmaker’s daughter lied may not be as important as the fact that she felt the need to escape. Like those in the Pension, with the exception of the narrator, the dressmaker’s daughter places a lot of weight on the importance of class and nobility. She knows that she will be treated differently should people think she is of noble stock rather than being the daughter of a dressmaker. It is easier for her to lie about who she is and enjoy life than to be truthful and tell people who she really is.