The work of Katherine Mansfield has been defined as modernist, the forerunner to modernism, impressionist, modern feminist, etc. This confusion and difficulty of classification is an ironic mirror of the period of time which transitioned to Modernism. The turn of the 20th century is highly influenced by factors such as Darwin’s theory of evolution and its consequences to religion, the explosion of new inventions, an increased access to information, and a general tone of skepticism. Life became more rich, but also more complicated. A life lived was no longer accomplished in the staid center, but rather at its emotional margins. In the context of the historical timeframe and as judged using aspects of the Modernist Short Story, Katherine Mansfield is a modernist writer and these characteristics are evident in “Bliss”.
“Bliss” opens in media res, describing Bertha’s unexplained feeling of bliss as she is returning home. Shifting between the narrative voice and Bertha’s internal monologue, the reader is led through a series of relatively mundane events prior to and concluding after an evening dinner party. Traditional plot exposition, tracking actions like the twin slopes of a hill from low to high to low again, is eschewed for the more complicated meanderings of Bertha’s understanding, lack of understanding, and emotional processing of this snapshot of life that is proceeding before her. The cathartic conflict/resolution paradigm is replaced with an unpredictability more comparable to that experienced in ordinary life. And “Bliss” avoids demanding that the reader obtain a singular message in a neatly tied conclusion, creating an ending of the telling of the tale instead of an ending to the tale. In the structure of “Bliss”, the modernist tenets of distrust of an omniscient narrator in favor of interior monologue and stream of consciousness, focus on ordinary events rather than extraordinary, the use of ‘in media res’ and the unfolding of scenes, a minimal use of plot, and non-traditional plot exposition are all observed.