Thesis Christ: English Senior Goes A-Gardening

“And what are you doing in a London garden?” the British ask of writer Katherine Mansfield in her journals. In a garden of her own design, English senior Claire Pask is writing her thesis.

Photo by Jaime Archer  Claire hangs out with the namesake of Mansfield’s  The Aloe

Photo by Jaime Archer

Claire hangs out with the namesake of Mansfield’s The Aloe

Pask’s thesis addresses “the relationship between nature and identity in Katherine Mansfield’s fiction, examining how the relationship between women and outdoor space — specifically gardens — in her work is inflected by the concerns of class, colonialism, and gender.” Mansfield, a wealthy New Zealand colonial by birth and a London-dwelling bohemian by choice, is known for her short stories, especially “Bliss” and “The Garden Party,” which are written in a similar style to her modernist contemporary Virginia Woolf.

Pask, who first read Mansfield in Professor Jay Dickson’s “Virginia Woolf Networks” class her sophomore year, was attracted to Mansfield’s work because “she somehow managed to condense into ten or so pages what other writers, like Woolf, spent whole novels expanding on: the thorough narration and encapsulation of an entire consciousness.”

Mansfield does this through the gardens in her stories. “I argue that the space of the garden in Mansfield’s stories serves as the lynchpin of Mansfield’s awareness of herself and of her characters as women, and as colonial subjects,” Pask said.

Though she often jokes that she’s getting away with writing her thesis about ladies and flowers, Pask decided to write about outdoor spaces because she “could use the natural landscapes of Mansfield’s writing as the stage on which to explore the distinctly modernist, feminist, and postcolonial concerns of her work.”

During a recent thesis meeting, in fact, Dickson, who is also Pask’s thesis advisor, discussed how Mansfield’s stories transform into a kind of garden, a space of “feminine artistry and imagination.” In a sense, Pask’s thesis accomplishes the same act. “Maybe I’m creating my own sort of garden through writing, like Mansfield, cultivating the resources around me to produce a work of the imagination that must be kept within a clear set of borders,” she said.

The rest of Mansfield’s journal entry is as follows: “But why should they make me feel a stranger? Why should they ask me every time I go near: ‘And what are you doing in a London garden?’ They burn with arrogance & pride. And I am the little Colonial walking in the London garden patch — allowed to look, perhaps, but not to linger.” Pask’s thesis opens the story — the garden — and invites us to linger.

Pask, herself a former Quest editor, was recently named a Fulbright Scholar, and she will work as a Teaching Assistant at the University of Málaga next year. Her favorite plants are amaranths and bromeliads.