Robert and Jinnie Salesby are an English couple staying at a French resort to restore Jinnie’s health. Rather than a dramatically delineated plot, the story is comprised of a series of moments in daily life, drawn with psychological precision and depth. Robert, whose point of view the narrator explores most of the time, is characterized through his frequent shifts in perspective--from the present, shaped by his wife’s illness, to their past experiences of health and joy. As the story traces the Salesbys’ daily regimen of meals, walks, and rest, Robert’s grief and hostility regarding his wife’s illness becomes ever clearer.

The hotel’s other inhabitants, who are mostly drawn as caricatures--the American woman who talks to her dog, for example, and the Honeymoon Couple, whose vigor and sexuality provide a foil to the Salesbys’ subdued relationship--call Robert an "ox" and observe his solitariness and lack of apparent emotion. The local children react to him as if he is a figure of sexualized threat. Jinnie’s perspective is revealed only through her self-effacing cheerfulness, her appreciation of her husband, and her plenitude of that "temperament" her husband seems without.


The principal conflict of the story is how to maintain intimate connections when chronic illness transforms them. Robert’s depression dominates the narrative style; Jinnie is evoked by her "light dragging steps" and other physical frailties, and the natural world is alternately described as a site of insensible lushness and as a place of fracture and loss, as when lightning is described as fluttering "like a broken bird that tries to fly and sinks again and again struggles" (208). As apparent as Robert’s misery is to the reader, it is ironically unclear to both the strangers who witness his public hostility and to the wife with whom he shares his private life.

Like most Modernist writers, Mansfield explores ruptures in space, time, and psychological experience; in "The Man Without a Temperament," illness catalyzes these ruptures--if not for the ill person herself. Robert’s perspectival slips between the lush southern landscape he lives in now with his ill wife, and the wintry London scenes in which their past, vigorous life was set, demonstrate Mansfield’s virtuosity at representing significant chronological shifts in fiction.

When Mansfield wrote this story, she was ill with the tuberculosis that eventually killed her. Her physician urged her husband, English critic and editor John Middleton Murry, to accompany her abroad. Unlike Robert Salesby, Murry declined. For critic Jeffrey Meyers, this story represents Mansfield’s idea of how they would have lived had Murry shared her convalescence. It exemplifies Mansfield’s sense that Murry saw their life together after her illness as "torture with happy moments . . . not life" (Introduction xi).


First published: 1920. Mansfield was born Kathleen Beauchamp.

Primary Source



Vintage Classics

Place Published

New York



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