In 1920 when the book ‘Bliss And Other Stories’ was published, it was the end of World War 1, which for a number of reasons was a very vulnerable time for a single woman. There were many more un-married women around at this time than men, because most young men were out fighting in the war, which basically meant that there were not enough husbands to go round. The whole concept of an unmarried woman, made them very vulnerable to being miss-read by the outside world.
The world for women was currently revolutionising as women no longer had to stay at home and look after the house hold, but had to go out and get jobs, which were usually men’s posts, but as these single women didn’t have the financial support of a husband, they had no choice but to work. Though finding work was not always as easy for women, because they could not do any physical jobs, as it was still considered in proper, and had not had the privilege of going to university.Order now
In some cases like the case of ‘Miss Ada Moss’ in ‘Pictures’ by Katherine Mansfield, women sometimes had no choice but to turn to prostitution, to allow them to pay there rent; (‘if people wont’ look after themselves in times like these, nobody else will’). In 1920, when this story was written, there was no social service available to deal with this prostitution, and the general downward spiral of woman’s finances, so the women had to ‘look after themselves’.
Also this prostitution made women especially vulnerable, as there was no contraception, and if you became pregnant without being married first, there was no way back, and you were thrown to the bottom of society. At this time women were in the process of being enfranchised, or trying to get political equality for both men and women, and for the women’s vote. This made some women even more vulnerable, because of the abuse from men related to this subject.
First of all in the first paragraph of ‘Pictures’ by Katherine Mansfield, you find out that threw main character of the story is a ‘Miss’, and therefore a single woman. This therefore opens views, which are proved correct through the rest of the story; that ‘Miss Ada Moss’ who is a single woman in Edwardian England, does not have the emotional, financial, or physical protection that a husband creates.
The story ‘Pictures goes on to shoe that Miss Moss seems to be living in a single room at the back of the house, which is where the servants usually slept, and underlines the act that she does not have the financial support of a working husband. It also says that her room smelled of ‘soot and face powder’, which seems to show that she is living in dirt and things are deteriorating, and the paper of ‘fried potatoes’ that she had eaten the night before. This indicates that she is eating cheap food, because she cannot afford better. Later on she also dreams or craves better food, ‘breakfast followed dinners across the ceiling’.
She complains of being cold (‘I always wake up so cold in the mornings now’), which indicates that things seem to be deteriorating for her, and also that she hasn’t got a nice warm husband to warm her up, which shows that she is vulnerable also emotionally without a husband. In the first paragraph of ‘The Little Governess’ by Katherine Mansfield, the first thing it starts off with ids the Little Governess thinking that she ‘wished it wasn’t night time’. This instantly shows that she is not secure about travelling at night on her own, and that there could be unseen dangers for a single woman travelling alone.
At the ‘Governess Bureau’ the lady had given direct orders and advise for travelling alone at night to a foreign country; ‘I always tell my girls that its better to mistrust people at first rather than trust them’. The Little Governess and the lady at the bureau had both been aware of the dangers of being a single woman travelling alone at night. Which presents the Little Governess to immediately being vulnerable. In the first paragraph of both the stories (‘The Little Governess’, and ‘Pictures’) you find out that both characters in the stories have no real home, no family, and no one who knows them.
Overall I think that women are presented as extremely vulnerable both physically, emotionally, and financially. Physically, by as is true in ‘The Little Governess’, with their beauty, and as in this story she has no idea of what men are like, and is naive in thinking that the old man sees her as a grandfather might see his granddaughter, (as this is how she sees him), but actually it is something much more horrible, as she soon finds out when he tries to take advantage of her, like when the old man was looking at her and a ‘flush licked his cheeks’ and the Little Governess was totally unaware and naive.
But as in the story ‘Pictures’ it turns the other way, when Miss Moss feels diminished when people look down on her because of her lack of beauty, for example when the cab driver calls out ‘look out fatty’. So where women and physical beauty are concerned, it is a vicious circle. Women are also vulnerable in their lack of education, so they cannot get proper jobs and earn an adequate living like Miss Ada Moss, and sometimes turn to prostitution.
For the Little Governess the only option for a job was to travel all the way to Germany to become a governess. Single women in Edwardian times were also liable to being miss-read, as could be true in the Katherine Mansfield story ‘Bliss’ where Bertha treats the young beautiful single ‘Miss Fulthum’ as a ‘find’ or something to show off at a dinner party, without Miss Fulthum’s permission. The Little Governess is alone and unprotected from stranger’s eyes by a man to accompany her.
So when an appearing sweet and kind old man offers to help her and show her round the city, she is happy to trust him as a grandfather figure, despite the advice she received earlier to be a ‘woman of the world’ and to be ‘mistrustful’ of strangers. She’s seems very vulnerable when she comments on how the stewardess was ‘so kind’ and ‘tucked up her feet’ which makes her seem like a helpless child. Although this warm feeling of being helped doesn’t last very long, as soon as she gets off the train ‘she felt afraid’ and again wishes ‘that it was daytime’ which again presents her as a vulnerable, child like figure.
And again when she gets on her next train to Munich she immediately feels threatened by this new and hostile (to her) environment; she thinks ‘I wish it wasn’t night time’, again the vulnerability of travelling at night, ‘I wish there was another woman in the carriage’, this clearly indicates that she feels threatened by being on her own with men in the carriage, and needs the safety and protection, and maybe just the emotional support of another woman in the carriage.
Miss Ada Moss in the story ‘Pictures’ the landlady has absolutely no respect for her, and intrudes in on her privacy. In a desperate attempt to prevent this, Miss Moss assumes false dignity, she speaks to the landlady ‘far too friendly’, which indicates that the landlady is most in control of the situation, and Miss Moss has to be nice to her. She tries to keep in control by pretending to get a paycheque in front of the landlady, ‘I think you’ll be sorry for what you said’. Although this doesn’t last long for the landlady abandons all pretence and ‘pounced’ securing the letter.
This depicts Miss Moss as very vulnerable, with the landlady intruding on her privacy, and stealing her private letter. A man maybe would have leaped straight out of bed and grabbed it back, and if Miss Moss had a husband he would have done it for her, but being a single woman in restricting clothes (‘her nightdress was slit down the back’) she can only call after the landlady ‘give me back my private letter’, which is very feeble and the landlady does not naturally give it back to her.
As Miss Moss leaves her flat, an ‘old brown cat’ laps up some spilt milk on the pavement, and this gives Miss Moss a ‘sinking’ feeling. She thinks that this is the future for her maybe, which shows the general decline of her belief that she is going to earn some money soon, which again shows the lack of financial support that a husband would give. She comments later on in the story that she’ forgot it was Saturday’ which shows that to her all the days are the same, and she has nothing to live for.
But a single woman can also be a threat, as in Miss Fultum in ‘Bliss’ because of their sexual power. This power could actually make men vulnerable if they knew how to use it. A married man is attracted to a vulnerable single woman; he says to Miss Fultum ‘I adore you’ while Bertha his wife watches. He is completely in Miss Fultums’ control, the control that she creates with her beauty. In this case the situation is turned entirely around and the man is the one who is vulnerable, and Miss Fultum is in control.
But in the Little Governess, she does not know that she is in control, and looks at the old man as a controlling ‘Grandfather figure’, which gradually leads to disaster when he tries to take advantage of her. In conclusion I think that Mansfield’s presentation of vulnerable single women suggests that these women are often most vulnerable when they believe themselves to be most in control, (both The Little Governess and Miss Moss are not very controlling figures, so do not take advantage of the situations that they are in) – and her use of free indirect style at these moments conveys this to us.