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Katherine Mansfield and Russia$
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Galya Diment, Gerri Kimber, and W. Todd Martin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474426138

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474426138.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 17 May 2022

‘Je ne parle pas français’: Reading Mansfield’s Underground Man

‘Je ne parle pas français’: Reading Mansfield’s Underground Man

(p.11) ‘Je ne parle pas français’: Reading Mansfield’s Underground Man
Katherine Mansfield and Russia

David Rampton

Edinburgh University Press

Mansfield’s “Je ne parle pas francais”, a story about unrequited desire and its effects, is narrated by its principal character. He is an unscrupulous, unsavoury type, which has helped make Mansfield’s critics quasi-unanimous in condemning him for his role in the events portrayed and questioning the way he describes them. His bitterness and scepticism have reminded some of Mansfield’s readers of Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground”. The proto-existentialist aspect of the stories, their preoccupation with “good faith”, their scepticism concerning belief systems and grand abstractions more generally, the difficulties of escaping various kinds of isolation, the difficulties of sustained emotional commitment, all these help make the case for reading the stories in conjunction. Mansfield use a number of strategies – literary allusions, thematic echoes, self-reflexiveness –to help readers negotiate the story’s complexities. In the end, the large questions may remain unanswered, but that is as may be. “Je ne parle pas francais” firmly establishes her as an important modernist writer and a valuable link with Dostoevsky and the great Russian forebears in whom she took such an interest.

Keywords:   Mansfield, Dostoevsky, Existentialist, Emotion, Complexity, Modernist

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