Most of the thirteen stories in this collection portray interactions among pension guests in a German spa town; a few represent the lives of the town's permanent residents. The minor health problems (mostly digestive ailments, or unspecified "internal complaints") of the guests are not the crux of the plot but rather what gives it its texture. Talk about eating, "internal complaints," sexuality, body image, and pregnancy is the vehicle through which people try to relate.

Most of the stories are about failed communications: between men and women, for example, or between German and English people. Several stories are narrated in the first person by a young Englishwoman whose bodily and marital status (ill? pregnant? married or not?) are pointedly ambiguous.

Two stories represent childbirth from "outsider" perspectives. In "At Lehman's," a virginal serving girl sees her mistress's pregnancy as an "ugly, ugly, ugly" state; later, her sexual explorations with a young man are interrupted by her mistress's screams in labor. In "A Birthday," a man waiting for his wife to give birth focuses on his own suffering rather than hers. "The Child-Who-Was-Tired" follows a child-servant through a day of repeated abuses to body and spirit that culminates in infanticide.


These stories, originally published in the New Age, a British periodical, were inspired by Mansfield's stay in a Bavarian spa, where her mother sent her in 1909 after a series of sexual explorations resulted in an "unsuitable" marriage and a pregnancy conceived out of wedlock. Mansfield went to Germany alone, and miscarried there, probably during the second trimester. The ambiguities surrounding the first-person narrator of several stories suggests that she is a figure for the pregnant, married-in-name-only, Mansfield.

Critic Mary Burgan reads both the childbirth stories and those focused on diet and gluttony (like "Germans at Meat") psychoanalytically, as expressive of Mansfield's ambivalence about her pregnancy (see annotation of Illness, Gender and Writing: The Case of Katherine Mansfield in this database). The tone of the stories ranges from wryly to bitterly ironic. Their recurrent message about gender relationships, for example, is that they produce unhappiness and physical suffering in women disproportionate to that experienced by men.


First collected and published as In a German Pension in London in 1911.



Place Published

New York



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