Katherine Mansfield’s “The Garden Party” was written in 1922, during the period between the two world wars. In many ways it reflects the context of its creation. The 1920s saw enormous political and social disturbance throughout Europe. In the new Soviet Union, for example, the Marxist revolution was nearing completion. The Soviet Union’s powerful leader, V. I. Lenin, had succeeded in wresting control from the Russian aristocracy and was establishing a system of agricultural collectivization in the rural parts of the Soviet Union. In parts of Europe, political groups were beginning to promote fascism—a philosophy that supports a government of unlimited power, often ruled by a dictator. These changes alarmed many and prompted people everywhere to discuss issues related to the class systems that existed during the period.
World War I and the political and social upheavals of the mid-war years had tangible effects on the arts and literature. Katherine Mansfield, like many others in England and elsewhere, felt the impact of the war, as her beloved brother was killed. Other writers and artists were similarly affected by the psychological and cultural fallout of the war. In his 1922 poem The Waste Land, for example, T. S. Eliot characterizes his sense of individual alienation and cultural uncertainty, having the poetic “I” of this poem remark, “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” The fragments to which Eliot alludes are those bits of Western culture and the humanist tradition that may be used as shields against the new cultural disruption and uncertainty. In nonfiction, Oswald Spengler, a German historian, predicted the end of the hegemony of Western humanist values and culture in his now-classic work, The Decline of the West. Rather than a decline of the West, “The Garden Party” may be understood to depict the end of caste-ridden “garden party” civilization—the carefree gentility of preWorld War I Europe—in its representation of Laura Sheridan’s struggle between the worlds of her parents and her working-class neighbors.
Ira Mark Milne (Editor), Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 8, Katherine Mansfield, Published by Thomson Gale, 2000.