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By: Katherine Mansfield

Prelude is a short story by Katherine Mansfield. It was first published by the Hogarth Press in July 1918, after Virginia Woolf encouraged her to finish the story. Mansfield had begun writing Prelude in the midst of a love affair she had in Paris in 1915. It was reprinted in Bliss and Other Stories (1920). The story was a compressed and subtler version of a longer work The Aloe, which was later published posthumously in full.

The story is divided into twelve sections. It opens in medias res, and it is gradually developed that the Burnell family is moving out of their house.




There isn't enough room left on the buggy for Lottie and Kezia to get in because of all the stuff from the removal. A neighbour, Mrs Samuel Josephs, will look after them until another van comes in the evening to pick up other stuff. The children are told to mingle with the neighbours' children, and they are given tea.




Then Kezia goes back into her old house, looks about a few remaining items, then gets scared of something behind her. Lottie draws by and says the storeman is there to pick them up. They leave.




On the road the storeman refers to a lighthouse on Quarantine Island, thus suggesting that the story is set in Wellington. When they arrive, they are greeted by the grandmother; Linda has a headache; she and Aunt Beryl are having tea. Aunt Beryl and Stanley have argued over the fact that he was at work while she was left alone to deal with the removal.




The grandmother tucks the children in: Lottie and Isabel in the same bed, Kezia with her. Lottie says a prayer. Aunt Beryl dreams of being independent from Stanley. Stanley brags about buying the new house so cheap, then goes to bed with Linda. Pat and the servant girl turn in too. The grandmother goes to bed the last.




The next day, Linda wakes up to a sunny weather and a husband boasting about his physique - she ridicules him slightly. Bored, she thinks of how she dreamt of birds.




The grandmother is doing the dishes in the kitchen and remembers how, when they lived in Tasmania, Beryl was once stung by a red ant...Then Aunt Beryl wonders where she can put up some paintings she doesn't like. Linda comes up and is sent to the blooming garden to look after her children; Kezia and she look at an aloe.




Stanley comes back delighted from work with cherries, oysters and a pineapple, willing to see his wife; Linda seems less happy; Aunt Beryl is 'restless'.




The girls play at grown-ups, until Pip and Rags, their cousins the Trout boys arrive. The garden is "boncer" (or bonzer, an Australasian word meaning "super").




Pat chops off a duck's head to show the children that the duck still walks on for some instants after being killed; Kezia is shocked by the episode and demands Pat to "Put head back"




In the kitchen, Alice is reading a book on dreams; Aunt Beryl comes in and bosses her round, then feels better and walks out.




They eat the duck for tea. Stanley and Aunt Beryl play a game of cribbage, and he wins. Linda and her mother take a turn in the garden to look at the aloe. To Linda, the tree gets her thinking that she loathes Stanley, and dreams about leaving the house; Mrs Fairfield thinks it would be good to make jam out of the berries in the vegetable garden.




Aunt Beryl writes a letter to her friend Nan, saying she is bored with living in the countryside, then thinks to herself how despicably false and unhappy with herself she is, until Kezia calls for her to come to dinner.

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Kathleen Mansfield Murry was a prominent modernist writer who was born and brought up in New Zealand. She wrote short stories and poetry under the pen name Katherine Mansfield. When she was 19, she le...

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