What’s Her First Ball all about?:
Stories to Get You Through the Night is a collection to remedy life’s stresses and strains. Inside you will find writing from the greatest of classic and contemporary authors; stories that will brighten and inspire, move and delight, soothe and restore in equal measure. The first story in this collection, Her First Ball is by Katherine Mansfield and was first published in 1921 in The Sphere. It focuses on a young girl called Leila who has come to stay with her cousins and is about to attend her very first ball which leaves her both excited and terrified in equal measures.
What did I think?:
I have previously come across the author Katherine Mansfield in a fictionalised account of her life – Mansfield by C.K. Stead, and in her Letters and Journals, both of which I have reviewed fairly recently. I was pleased to come across this gorgeous little book with an example of one of her short fictions, and am glad to include it in my Short Stories Challenge. The collection itself is divided into a number of sections for the different stories, and Mansfield’s Her First Ball is included in the section under the sub-heading “Stories To Make You Feel Glad To Be Alive.” On finishing, I have to agree with the placement of this story. Mansfield writes a story that perfectly describes the anticipation and drama of youth, as our heroine Leila attends her first ball accompanied by her cousins who are already old-hands and incredibly “experienced” in the world of balls.
One thing that stood out for me in this story was the beauty of the poetic language Mansfield uses to describe Leila’s excitement at the events happening around her. She is acutely aware of all sensations, even prior to the ball during the cab ride, and while she is dancing with her anonymous partners:
“The azaleas were separate flowers no longer; they were white and pink flags streaming together”.
Balls at this time were the highlight of the social calender for the upper middle class, and were often a place to secure a future partner. I think Mansfield is being very clever in touching on this fact – was there nothing else for women except to dance and find a husband? Back to the story and as with life, reality hits. One of Leila’s partners (referred to as “the fat man”) informs Leila that she should enjoy her youth while she can, as “you can’t hope to last anything like as long as that….And your heart will ache, ache” – the fat man squeezed her closer still, as if he really was sorry for that poor heart –”because no one wants to kiss you now.” This dose of reality shocks and saddens Leila for a while as Mansfield reminds us that youth is fleeting, and eventually we all have to face the fact that we will grow older. In such a short space of time, the author creates a story with a bit of a dark side that celebrates life but urges caution for the future. I enjoyed watching Leila grow up over just a few pages and become more adult as she embraces life with all its joys and inevitabilities.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):
NEXT SHORT STORY: Here There Be Tygers, by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew