Bliss by Katherine Mansfield Questions and Answers 15/10

Bliss by Katherine Mansfield Questions and Answers 15/10


[Q. What are the themes for the story “Bliss” by Katherine Mansfield? Do they include marriage and adultery? 

Or, Q. Discuss the theme of marriage in “Bliss”.[Bliss by Katherine Mansfield Questions and Answers]

In Bliss by Katherine Mansfield we have the theme of happiness, perception, da dep ol are blood2 mot deception, paralysis, control, trust, dependency and acceptance. Taken from her collection of the same name the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story it becomes clear to the reader that Mansfield may be exploring the theme of happiness. Bertha can see nothing wrong with her life. Everything in Bertha’s eyes is perfect. She has a loving husband, a beautiful baby and a nice home. There is nothing in her life that she would like to change. However it is interesting that Bertha in many ways feels stifled by the fact that she cannot express her happiness as she would like to. The reader is aware that Bertha is restricting herself to society’s opinion as to how one should act. If anything Bertha’s happiness makes her feel like a child again. However she knows that she must be careful in how she expresses herself. Again due to the preconceptions that society might have.

This might be important as Mansfield may be suggesting that at the time the story was written any overt expression of happiness might have been considered to be unusual. The reason being that women at the time would not necessarily have had the power to express how they felt or have been allowed to express themselves. They had a place in society and that was to be just behind their husbands. Bertha might be fully aware that she cannot openly show that she is happy and may feel as though she has to adhere to the rules within society is .

 It is also clear to the reader that Harry is conducting an affair with Miss Fulton, Something that is clearly noticeable not only to the reader but to Bertha too while both Harry and Miss Fulton are in the hall. What is interesting about this encounter between Harry and Miss Fulton is that Bertha does not intervene. It is as though the sight of both Harry and Miss Fulton leaves Bertha paralysed. For the first time in the story Bertha is not in control of a situation. She is being forced to witness her husband’s infidelities with another woman. What is also interesting about Miss Fulton in fact true. She is not is the fact that the perception that Bertha has of her is not ship with Harry than having her friend and is more interested in pursuing a relationship evenings a friendship with Bertha. If anything Miss Fulton’s relationship with Bertha has been deceptive with her main goal being to pursue a romance with Harry. Which leaves the reader suspecting that Miss Fulton’s attendance at the dinner is more to Harry’s advantage than to Bertha’s. Yet this is not something that Bertha had realised.

There may also be some symbolism in the story which may be important.

Usually in literature a black cat is bad luck however Mansfield compares Miss Fulton to a grey cat. This may be important as Mansfield may be using the colour grey to BAI suggest at least symbolically that Bertha does not really know where she stands with Miss Fulton. Though she had previously considered her to be a friend. This is not the case after Miss Fulton’s engagement with Harry. Similarly the pear tree is described by Mansfield as being symbolic of Berta’s life. However at the end of the story the tree is described as being still. Which would mirror the paralysis that Bertha feels. There is no movement in either the tree or Bertha. She does not know which way to turn. Should she forget about what she reader is hat she has seen or should she take action. The to believe that Bertha may take no action such is is the sense of shock she feels. It is as though her world has been turned upside down. What started out as a day full of happiness has ended in a nightmare for Bertha. bas 10616 bleitens derü 19/1 ribu Bertha can no longer trust Harry and trust would be the foundation of a successful marriage. The repercussions of what has happened could be life changing for Bertha.

At the time the story was written women were reliant on the male for their income. Bertha is probably fully aware that she cannot afford to leave Harry. She is to live her life stuck in a marriage with a man she cannot trust. She has no other option. Though some c critics might suggest that Bertha could down-size in life. There is the baby to think of. Bertha in reality has no means to support either herself or the baby. She is dependent entirely on Harry. Which leaves the reader to believe that nothing will change in Bertha a and Harry’s marriage. Bertha due to her dependency on Harry

will accept what is happening with regard to Harry and Miss Fulton. No longer will Bertha feel the happiness she had previously felt prior to seeing Harry with Miss Fulton. Her life has changed from one of sheer joy to one of total paralysis. Bertha will stay married to Harry because she believes that she has no choice but to.

Marriage and Adultery

The themes of marriage and adultery are cer ONDE central to “Bliss.” Bertha believes (or makes herself believe) she has a fulfilling, complete marriage. Although she characterizes her husband as a good pal, she still contends they are as much in love as they ever were. The climactic event of the story-Bertha’s realization of Harry’s affair with Pearl-proves that her husband does not share his wife’s contentment. As Harry’s affair demonstrates, he is not happy with the lack of passion in their marriage. Harry’s actions reveal his duplicitous nature: not only has Harry been hiding the affair from his wife, he also pretends to dislike Pearl in order to cover it up. The risk that Harry takes in kissing Pearl in his own home, as well as his method of hiding his true feelings, indicate the likelihood that he and Pearl share a very strong connection.



“Bliss” is written in a Modernist style, reflected in the focus on aesthetics throughout the story. Bertha herself is preoccupied with external appearances. Although this may come across as shallow, Bertha’s desire to make things beautiful is an attempt to express her feeling of “bliss.” Bertha is also interested in interpreting the appearance of others; as she watches guests ts interact at her dinner party, Bertha makes assumptions about their internal states based on their outward appearances. She assumes that, because she tries to communicate her feelings through her appearance, others are doing the same. However, ver, events in the story contradict this assumption and Bertha is proved wrong about the motives of Pearl and Harry, whom she has assumed are loyal and innocent but who are really having an Instead of trying to communicate th am ambsinTORS an affair. their internal states, Pearl and Harry are in fact trying to disguise them through their outward performance. Combined with the discussion of aesthetics, theatre, and performance at the party, “Bliss” gives the reader the feeling that nothing is quite as it appears.


Bertha tries to use both her external appearance and the presentation of her home to communicate her feelings and personality to the people around her. For example, she has paid special attention to the appearance of her living room in preparation for the dinner party and has even ordered certain types of fruit to match the room’s décor. Although Bertha herself acknowledges that this does “sound rather far-fetched and absurd,” her attention to detail is in keeping with her interest in modernity and current artistic movements, which someone like Bertha, who has “modern, thrilling friends,” would likely be aware of. She is “in her present mood” of almost delirious bliss when she buys the fruit, and this suggests that Bertha is trying to communicate her internal state through her surroundings; indeed, since she has no other way to communicate her feelings of joy and beauty to others because of social constraints placed on her ability to openly express her emotions. When Bertha sees the pear tree, which is white under the moon, “becalmed against the jade-green sky,” she thinks that this matches her outfit-“a white dress” and “a string of jade beads.” She notes that this “wasn’t intentional” but feels it is fitting because she views the pear tree “as a symbol of her own life.” This further suggests a correspondence between Bertha’s internal emotional state and her external appearance and presentation.

Although appearances initially seem to reflect reality, Mansfield complicates the concept of appearances at Bertha’s dinner party. There, Bertha misinterprets her guests’ behavior, emphasizing that not everything is what it seems. Throughout the evening, Bertha makes several assumptions about what Pearl is feeling based on the way Pearl presents herself. Interpreting the “strange smile” that Pearl gives Bertha across the table, Bertha decides that “the longest, most intimate look had passed between them,” and that Pearl “was feeling just what she was feeling.” Bertha also feels that she can read Harry’s moods based on his actions. When he offers Pearl a cigar, Bertha interprets from his manner that he is “bored” by Pearl and that he ear and un “really disliked her.” Similarly, when Harry goes to help Pearl with her coat, Bertha believes that Harry is “repenting his rudeness” towards Pearl and Bertha thinks affectionately how “simple” Harry is in some ways, like “a boy.” Bertha’s assumptions about Harry and Pearl are wrong, however, and they are presenting themselves in this way-Harry as innocent and Pearl as friendly-with an ulterior motive. Pearl’s friendship with Bertha is possibly an attempt to get close to Harry, with whom she is having an affair, rather than a “sign” that she is in love with Bertha. This revelation highlights the idea that appearances can be deceptive and as well as Bertha’s naivety in assuming that everyone around her is attempting to be as honest and transparent as she wishes that she herself could be. 

 Ultimately, all the characters in the story-even Bertha-are merely putting on performances, as their appearances don’t reflect their inner states. Although Bertha describes her guests as “modern, thrilling” people, who are interested in “social questions,” they y give lit little indication of this during the dinner, suggesting that this is merely a performance in keeping with fashion rather than a true reflection of their interests. During the party, Bertha describes her guests as a “decorative group” suggesting their superficiality and their lack of substance. Much of the conversation at the party also notably revolves around theatre and performance-reflecting both Pearl and Harry’s performance (as a loyal friend and a loyal husband) to mask their infidelity. The idea of performance also corresponds with Bertha’s performance as a woman who is happy in her life. Although Bertha does feel a genuine sense of bliss, there are indications throughout the story that her happiness verges on desperation and hysteria. Indeed, her frequent repetition of how happy she is gives the impression that she is trying to convince herself that there is nothing wrong with her life, despite the repression of her desires and the problems in her marriage, which become obvious as the story progresses. The revelation of Harry’s infidelity with Pearl throws into doubt all of Bertha’s, and the reader’s, certainty about how the other characters feel and draws attention to the fact that, while Bertha wishes to be a frank, honest person, her own true desires are hidden beneath a veneer of respectability and her performance as a conventionally happy by woman.

Change and Transformation

Change and transformation are subtle themes in the story. Bertha’s extreme sense of bliss, along with her new feelings of desire for her husband, show that she is undergoing a profound change in her life. She wonders if the feeling of bliss that she had all day was actually leading up to her increased attraction to her husband. At the end of the story, she wants nothing ore than for the guests to leave so she can be alone with Harry. Bertha’s transformation into a sexual being is abruptly halted when she sees her husband kissing Pearl Fulton. She realizes that she can no longer look at her world as perfect, nor can she move forward to a new relationship with Harry. When she runs to the window to look at the pear tree she finds that it is “as lovely as ever and as full of flowers and as still.” This is a clear sign that the change Bertha has undergone will be brought to an abrupt halt, for the pear tree which is seen to represent Bertha- remains exactly the same.


The concept of modernity is an important aspect of the story. Bertha constantly characterizes the elements of her life-her relationship with her husband and her friends, for instance as being thoroughly modern. However, Bertha’s view of modernity would seem to be a liking for things that are shallow, superficial, and duplicitous. She has rationalized her poor sexual relationship with her husband as “being modern” because they are such good pals. Thus, in Bertha’s mind, a modern marriage needn’t be based on love or attraction but simply on the bonds that would make two people friends. Her view of the modern marriage hurts her relationship with Harry as he experiences dissatisfaction at the state of their relationship. Even Bertha and Harry’s philosophy of raising children is perceived as modern. Bertha seems to spend little time with her daughter, instead entrusting her to a jealous nanny; moreover, Harry claims to have no interest in his daughter.

Bertha’s friends are also considered thoroughly modern-but they appear utterly ridiculous. Mrs. Knight is described as a cross between a giant monkey and a banana peel. Her modern ideas for decorating-including french fries embroidered on the curtains and chair backs shaped like frying pans- seem distasteful and ugly. Plays and poems mentioned by the guests seem dismal and pseudo-intellectual, and the satire reaches a high point in Eddie Warren’s lauding of a poem that begins, “Why Must it Always be Tomato Soup?” The guests and their interests, rather than seeming “modern” and “thrilling,” seem merely excessive and absurd.


2. The Significance of the Title

[Q. What is the meaning of the title ‘Bliss’? Discuss briefly. Or, Q. Think of the denotations and connotations of the word “bliss”, Why does Bertha admonish herself for “getting hysterical”? Is her bliss the same as the “zest for life” that she ascribes to her husband?]

‘Bliss’ presents a series of events concerning a dinner party. The story is presented through the perception of Bertha Young, who has a loving husband and everything a woman could possibly want. Bertha considers herself to be happy, because she must be happy since she has everything one could wish for. However, she does not desire her husband, until she starts to feel attracted to another woman – Pearl Fulton, who is also invited to the dinner party. The story questions the sexuality of the protagonist. As the evening progresses, Bertha finds out that her husband who seemed to dislike Pearl is actually having an affair with her. Throughout the story, there are several hints, which might indicate that Bertha knew about the affair and chose to ignore the truth and decided to live in the state of bliss. However, from a different perspective she could be seen as a naive wife believing in her husband.

As opposed to ‘Something Childish, but Very Natural Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’ follows the female protagonist of the story – Bertha Young. The reader therefore is presented the occurrences through Bertha’s perception and that is the only way the the reader gets to observe her husband Harry. Bertha Young is a 30 years old woman, who gives the first impression as a rather lightminded person, who could be even seen as immature for her age as she is described to have tendencies to: run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at-nothing-at nothing, simply.? (Bliss 116). Bertha feels joy – ‘absolute bliss’, even though she is not sure why she feels that way. The way Bertha perceives the so called bliss might be interpreted as a sudden feeling of sexual energy – she has not only been acting immaturely, but she was not fully aware of her own physicality: But in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable. She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply. She…. [was] waiting for something… divine to happen… that she knew must happen… infallibly (117). Bertha’s perception of the feeling resembles the feeling of an aroused person – the feeling of glowing space with sparks’, the feeling that this is almost unbearable’ yet there is a positive connotation to it. Further, she breathes deeply, deeply’ and she even has ‘trembling lips’. zych As the story progresses, the reader discovers that Bertha has a baby called little Bertha. Bertha loves her daughter; nevertheless, it does seem like a rather superficial love triggered primarily by Little Bertha’s physical appearance and her cuteness: “You’re nice-you’re very nice!” said she, kissing her warm baby.”I’m fond of you. I like you.” And, indeed, she loved Little B so much-her neck as she bent forward, her exquisite toes as they shone transparent in the firelight (120).

She does not seem to perceive the baby with a strong maternal instinct. She even lets the nurse have the upper hand and she does not dare to oppose her when she questions the Nanny’s decisions in her mind. Through this scene the reader may observe that Bertha is a caring person, however, she does not involve deeply in the relationships and she keeps them superficial rather than trying to approach her family closer, almost as she was intentionally keeping distance – which might be either perceived as a result of her immaturity or it might be an intentional way of closing herself from the outside world and the possibility of being hurt. The more blissful Bertha thinks she feels on the inside the more superficial are her relationships (with her own baby, husband and even her friends) on the outside: Bertha wanted to ask if it wasn’t rather dangerous to let her clutch at a strange dog’s ear. But she did not dare to. She stood watching them, her hands by her side, like the poor little girl in front of the rich little girl with the doll (119).

Furthermore, her incapability of deep involvement with family people could presumably be most comfortable around – is depicted by the telephone conversation with her husband Harry, when she is incompetent to engage in a deep conversation to let him know about her feelings: What had she to say? She’d nothing to say. She only wanted to get in touch with him for a moment (120). It seems that Bertha might be trying to mask her insecurity – either voluntarily or by not even realising that she is insecure. Further, the guests that are expected for the dinner party are introduced in the story including a woman of Bertha’s interest – Pearl Fulton. Pearl is perceived by Bertha as a very mysterious person and she cannot really figure her out, nor does she even know what she does as opposed to the other guests, who are all presented to the reader on the basis of what they do. They had met at the club and Bertha had fallen in love with her, as she always did fall in love with beautiful women who had something strange about them(121).

Bertha loves Pearl and is said to have tendencies to fall in love with an enigmatic and beautiful woman, yet on the other hand she does not acknowledge passion or desire for her own husband. The lesbian tendency of Bertha reflects Mansfield’s own sexual acknowledgement, as she herself is recognised as bisexual, which is observed by Tomalin in Mansfield’s journal entries: If later entry in Katherine’s journal is to be believed, she had some experience with Maata [her female classmate] during their schooldays that was sexually disturbing; it seems to have been more than a matter of a schoolgirl crush, and it became the germ of her awereness of her own bisexuality (Tomalin 16). Furthermore, Bertha has not been passionate in her marriage and is described to be so cold towards her husband, which suggests additional comparison to Mansfield’s own relationship with Murry, where according to Tomalin: whatever sexual attraction there was in the first place seems to have drained away pretty thoroughly, leaving

Katherine at any rate, as a being desexed (225).

The reader knows what is happening on the inside of Bertha’s mind; however, there is no focus on the actions that are concerning the outside. Bertha seems to admire her husband and perceives him in an innocent way. On the contrary, by the reaction of Harry to Pearl perceived through Bertha’s naive mind, the reader might suggest that he is cruel and narrow-minded because of his notes on Pearl: dullish”, with anaemia of the brain’ or liver frozen’. However, even though his constant unpleasant remarks about Pearl might seem dubious to the reader, Bertha does not wonder or hesitate at all, her lightness of mind which often borders with possible intentional ignorance even causes that she is amused by Harry’s comments. Patricia L. Moran questions in Word of Mouth: Body Language in Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf (1996): Does she suspect the affair between her husband and Pearl at the beginning of the story, or does this knowledge take her by surprise at the end? Is her sexual desire for her husband Harry genuine, or is it a defense against her homoerotic feelings for Pearl? What does the pear tree represent? And what exactly is bliss? (Moran 41). (en) fou et the big w

Bertha finds happiness in the little thing and she enjoys life by simply living it. She does focus on being happy; however, she does not exactly state what it is, that makes her feel this way: I’m too happy too happy! she murmured (Bliss 123). This might imply that Bertha does choose to feel happy, even though the occurrences might be actually making her sad, because it is nearly impossible to feel too happy, therefore it indicates that there is a hidden aspect of sadness. Bertha feels happiness that stands on the perception of presumably perfection. She feels happy because when she lists all the things that she has, she assumes she must be happy, however, there is no connection between perfection and happiness: Really really she had everything. She was young. Harry and she were as much in love as ever, and they got on together splendidly and were really good pals. She had an adorable baby. They didn’t have to worry about money. They had this absolutely satisfactory house and garden. And friends.

Bertha’s naïveté or possible acknowledgment of her husband’s affair is questioned when he comes home and tells Bertha that he needs five minutes. Bertha couldn’t help smiling; she knew how he loved doing things at high pressure. What, after all, did an extra five minutes matter? But he would pretend to himself that they mattered beyond measure. And then he would make a great point of coming into the drawingroom, extravagantly cool and collected (126). What does five minutes matter? It could be perceived as the fact that it is usual to need some time to get ready after involving physically with a person of desire. It might come to one’s mind that Harry has seen Pearl before the dinner and therefore they both are late and whereas she is still prepping in the taxi, Harry needs the extra five minutes to get ready. The fact that Bertha couldn’t stop smiling’ and that she does not simply state that Harry does that but she states that Bertha knows might sign that she is aware of her husband’s affair.

Bertha associates the beautiful women with her husband and her bed, an association she conceals with the ambiguity of strange. From this perspective, it is possible to argue that Bertha stages the very scene of discovery: she deliberately cultivates a friendship with Pearl Fulton (Moran 42).

Nevertheless, at the end of the dinner party as Harry helps Pearl with the coat, Bertha happens to see the cruel reality, that her husband is having an affair: His lips said:” I adore you,” and Miss Fulton laid her moonbeam fingers on his cheeks and smiled her sleepy smile (136). However, Bertha does not externally react, but again keeps the action to her inner mind: “Oh, what is going to happen now?” she cried. But the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flowers and as still (136). The description of the tree in the last sentence of the story can be perceived as a sign that Bertha does not realize the seriousness of the situation and is struck by the moment of Epiphany or that she chooses to live in the state of bliss, which might be regarded as sweet ignorance and not openly deal with her husband’s disloyalty.

The triangle in “Bliss” is different, and again, Mansfield mixes her tones. Bertha seems childishly happy in her marriage, her home, her child, and her arty friends. She gives a marvelous party in which sophisticated guests make inane, decadent conversation. Meanwhile, Bertha finds herself physically attracted to one of her guests, the cool Miss Fulton, and thinks that she detects Miss Fulton giving her a signal. Together er in the garden, they contemplate a lovely, flowering pear tree, and Bertha senses that they understand each other intuitively. Again Mansfield surprises the reader. Bertha transfers her feelings for Miss Fulton to her husband; for the first time, she really desires him. When she overhears him making an assignment with Miss Fulton, however, her life is shattered. In “Bliss,” as “as elsewhere, Mansfield’s brilliant and precise descriptions of the nonhuman world are always evocative. Although sometimes nature simply reveals an unsympathetic force, allied to human passions but beyond human control, some natural features demand to be interpreted as symbols, such as the phallic pear t tree in this story. Phallic it is, but it may be feminine as well, for Bertha identifies with it. The story is read, however, and the pear trees cannot be explained simply.

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1 thought on “Bliss by Katherine Mansfield Questions and Answers 15/10”

  1. Character of bertha young??15 marks
    Examinwe the autobiographical elemnts in catherine manfield bliss??15 marks
    Comment on the symbolism in catherine mansfield bliss??15 marks
    Discuss catherine manfield bliss as a story of desire and dissapoointment??15 marks


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