One of the enduring memories of my childhood was the luxury of spending many happy hours playing Totopoly, Careers and RISK with Derek, a schoolboy friend, who lived a few doors away from our family home. Derek had an older brother, Steve, who looked down with pity and derision on our obsession with Waddington’s board games. However, the gaming came to an end when Derek’s family decided to emigrate to New Zealand. It seemed like the other end of the world and indeed was and, to some extent, still is. A few airmail letters were exchanged, but our friendship eventually died the death of distance.
Nine years later, I encountered somebody who had made the opposite journey, from New Zealand to Great Britain. Graham Renwick Berry was a remarkable individual in every sense, a ‘Kiwi’ who lied about his age to join the Allied war effort and somehow ‘miraculously’ ended up in Blighty. After a while, Silvanus Berry CR (as he was later known) become ordained in the Church of England and served a first curacy in St Cuthbert’s, Philbeach Gardens. Eventually, he became Superior of the Community of the Resurrection. Mirfield. However, when I first met him, he was a man in his late forties (indeed on his fiftieth birthday, I, along with several fellow undergraduates, sprang a surprise on him by celebrating that landmark event with a slap-up meal at the Quebec Restaurant in central Leeds, the go-to eatery of its time).
Silvanus, then Warden of the Hostel of the Resurrection, could be sardonic and waspish, but also extraordinarily observant and kind. From time to time (not often) I would invite him back to my room around 21.30 to discuss the “contemporary social situation” over a small glass of whisky. On one occasion he invited himself to peruse my bookshelves and homed in, almost instantly, on my Penguin Classics edition of Katherine Mansfield’s Bliss and Other Stories. Somehow an important Kiwi-to-Kiwi connection was made even though, at 21.58, the man had to take himself off to Compline!
Sadly, Katherine Mansfield’s accomplishments have, over time, been somewhat eclipsed by the enduring literary legacy of Virginia Woolf, as well as the complementary achievements of other members of the Bloomsbury Group. However, her short stories are undoubtedly masterpieces and deserve greater readership.
In ‘Bliss’, Mansfield describes in detail how a young woman gets a rude awakening from her perfect life. The set-up is perfect.
“Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted 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.
“What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss - absolute bliss! - as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?”
Along with ‘Prelude’ and ‘The Little Governess’, Mansfield draws expertly not only on the ambiguous nature of her sexuality, but also her absolute fascination with detail. Fortunately, Mansfield did not write ‘the big novel’, instead she proved herself an exquisite ‘miniaturist’. Attention to detail (the ‘devil thing’) is everything. We need to drill down and down and down. If we can’t be stewards of small things, how can we be stewards of bigger things? Just think about it!