By Maria Dionisia Athanasopoulou
[presented at a student workshop in the context of the module “Modernist Fiction” taught at the English Department of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens]
“Honeymoon” is a short story by Katherine Mansfield, published in 1923 that follows a day in the life of two main characters, George and Fanny who are on their honeymoon on the Mediterranean coast. The setting is not specified but seems to be the south of France.
In her life, Mansfield was always traveling. This can be viewed in either positive or negative light. She can be viewed as a liberated, independent woman, or as an exile or an immigrant in a continual search for a home. Her protagonists can be viewed in the same light since they are constantly on the move; they often inhabit temporary, liminal spaces of hotels. In the interwar period we see a dominance of transitory places in her short stories, places that reflect instability and change. The hotel is a curious liminal location between the public sphere and the domestic, private sphere. Mansfield’s colonial background along with her precarious identity left an imprint on her writings. As a temporary space for all visitors, residents, and staff, the hotel encompasses the constant coming and going, the mobility that characterized the life of many women of the period.
In the fiction of the twentieth century, hotel restaurants were utilized as community spaces, where the characters could indulge in a lavish hotel lifestyle. The hotel restaurant is less public compared to the lobby. In general, the space of the hotel allows the public eye to intrude into the private moments of individuals, whose identity is formed under the very critical gaze of other people and by the spaces they reside in. The author creates an intricate colour pallet that allows the reader to sense the change from privacy to publicity. Moreover, class identity in the communal hotel spaces is estimated through interactivity and the gaze.
More specifically, the vivid colours and beautiful and picturesque imagery in the first part of the story, when they move from the shop to the restaurant, symbolize the happiness, contentment, and love they feel for each other.
[… ] under the green and gold shade of the plane trees, through the small streets that smelled of lemons and fresh coffee, past the fountain square where women, with water-pots lifted, […] with its pink and white umbrellas, green tables, and blue siphons, and so to the sea front. There a wind, light, warm, came flowing over the boundless sea. It touched George, and Fanny it seemed to linger over while they gazed at the dazzling water. (40)
All this beautiful imagery highlights their happiness and their transformation from being single to having a fulfilling and successful married life. However, when they approach the restaurant, the colours and imagery change, becoming bland and darker, especially in the way the band is introduced.
[…] the big, bone-white hotel-restaurant came into view. (42)
But it was the band grouped under one of the dark trees that fascinated her most.
[…] The dark man playing the flute […] (47)
This way, Mansfield demonstrates how fast circumstances can change, from happy and sunny to dark and gloomy. At this moment Fanny’s change of heart and skepticism about her marriage can be detected.
Mansfield has been recognized as an important modernist author thanks to her innovative and influential writing style and her revitalization of the short story even though she has not been entirely accepted by some of her Bloomsbury group modernist literary peers. According to Andrew Bennett, “as a ‘colonial’ from a family connected to commerce and as the mistress of the lower-middle-class Murry […], Mansfield was always to remain on the fringes of this august grouping” (3). This quote by Bennett emphasizes the exclusion of female writers from the modernist canon. Mansfield seems to transfer this sense of exclusion to Fanny. This is visible where she desires to appear one with the crowd: “all she wanted to do was to sit down and look like everybody else” (43).
The hotel space of the restaurant is where characters reflect on and create relationships. The public rooms are open to the public, maintaining an extensive social scope where hotel guests mingle with visitors and staff. In “Honeymoon,” the restaurant of the hotel creates an important narrative chance for the development of the connection between Fanny and George. It is here that Fanny starts to question her bond with George: “‘It’s this.’ Fanny paused a moment, looked down, looked up again. ‘Do you feel,’ she said, softly, ‘that you really know me now? But really, really know me?’ (46). This question is a cry for help. The author uniquely portrays Fanny’s emotions of immense love for her husband George. However, she soon begins to realize that her husband, the man she will spend the rest of her life with, does not fully know her. By asking him this question she is also questioning herself regarding who she is and what she desires in her life. Through this quote, “It was too much for George. Know his Fanny? He gave a broad, childish grin” (46), we see how he ignores his wife’s serious question and its deeper meaning with a laugh.
In the hotel restaurant, George mentions how “These foreign fellows bore me stiff. The only way to get rid of them is simply to shut up as you saw I did” (45). This highlights how George does not appreciate the transculturalism the hotel offers even though he is a tourist. In the restaurant, both protagonists observe their surroundings and other guests in different ways:
Fanny felt bold enough to look at the other people … It was then she noticed a tall old man […]. Strange she hadn’t noticed him before. (47)
[…] she looked at that gorgeous sea […] but everybody was smiling— except Fanny and George. Is life like this too? thought Fanny. There are people like this. (48)
“Had she and George the right to be so happy? Wasn’t it cruel? There must be something else in life which made all these things possible. What was it?” (48)
Fanny’s experience of the hotel restaurant is one of wander but also social concern and questioning. She wonders if she and her husband truly deserve the affluent lifestyle they have. But as the narrator points out,
George had been feeling differently from Fanny. […] George, too, gazed at the bright, breathing water. […] There was nothing like the sea for making a chap feel fit. […] And there sat Fanny, his Fanny, leaning forward, breathing so gently. (48)
George is “feeling differently” since he doesn’t sympathize with people who do not share his economic and moral status. He only appreciates the fact that he is not in their situation and that instead he has a happy life with Fanny. Whereas Fanny is questioning her marriage, George is in thinking fondly and possessively of her, while also appreciating his fit body. They have different viewpoints even in the way they notice the rest of the hotel restaurant guests.
Mansfield placed her female protagonist in the hotel space to free her from the judgmental gaze of society and the domestic obligations of home. The hotel as a setting allows the author to analyze the subjectivity of Fanny and to interrogate the lives of women during the interwar era. Here, the restaurant is an in-between, non-place, neither here nor there, a location which allows further analysis of the demanding concepts of home and belonging that were interwoven in her writing.
“‘I say,’ said George, rapidly, let’s go, shall we? Let’s go back to the hotel. Come. Do, Fanny darling. Let’s go now’” (49). George being controlling and dismissive of his wife’s regards and concerns in this short story portrays how men during that time were in total control and a position of power in their marriages. Women of that period were in subordinate positions just like Fanny was. He doesn’t hear her answer about leaving the restaurant. He leads his and his wife’s life in the way he sees fit. Not much dialogue or voice was written for Fanny in “Honeymoon.” Unspoken feelings are only expressed in her thoughts. She doesn’t externalize her concerns or stand up for herself. George’s desire to return to the hotel room signifies how hotel rooms create in him a feeling of stability, a refuge as well as a place where he can assert his sexual desire for his wife and his possessiveness. However, the room is connected, just like the restaurant, with the constant coming and going of guests and can be defined as a revolutionary space, especially for women. According to Andrew Thacker, modernism and modernist literature often “Complicate any sharp and easy division between a conservative sense of place and a revolutionary sense of space” (13).
The blurry line between the revolutionary and the conventional sense of space is a quality of the hotel since it defies concrete definitions. This is exactly what positions it as the ultimate modernist space.
Maria Dionisia Athanasopoulou is a final-year undergraduate student of English Language and Literature at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens.
Bennett, Andrew. Katherine Mansfield: Writers and their Work. Northcote House Publishers. 2003.
Mansfield, Katherine. 1923. “Honeymoon,” The Doves’ Nest and Other Stories. Alfred A. Knopf. 2021.
Thacker, Andrew. Moving through Modernity: Space and Geography in Modernism. Manchester University Press, 2003.