Katherine Mansfield on fear, fleeting moments and unspoken love

Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth."

Mansfield's short story "Psychology" is perhaps not the most witty or wellwritten work from her, as several of her other works, such as "Bliss" and "A married man's story" are truly masterpieces in storytelling. "Bliss" is a study in the tightly knit relationship between happiness and oblivion while "A married man's story" tells of the slow, invisible, inevitable, ruthless intrusion of one's own personal background and life in a marriage.

"Psychology" talks of the lies we tell ourselves after we let moments go - moments which scream not to be overlooked. The two protagonists, overconfident and experienced "adults", yet frightfully fearful in their actions, are masters at avoiding life whose meaning, we can only imagine, lies in these small, significant moments. They conveniently believe they have had sufficient intimate experiences to count for a fulfilled life whereas in terms of their professional lives, the possibilities are endless, the sky the limit.

And the best of it was they were both of them old enough to enjoy their adventure to the full without any stupid emotional complication. Passion would have ruined everything; they quite saw that. Besides, all that sort of thing was over and done with for both of them–he was thirty-one, she was thirty – they had had their experiences, and very rich and varied they had been, but now was the time for harvest–harvest. Weren't his novels to be very big novels indeed? And her plays. Who else had her exquisite sense of real English Comedy?"

The protagonists' mastery of skipping over the moment like a rock over the surface of the water, and tight grip over their desires - both secretly (cowardly!) knowing quite well that desires, like moments, are fleeting and with time, subside - seems a misguided and unfortunate skill in this story, as it is in life. The passing of such moments leads to a rising mound of regrets, something Mansfield very famously deplored. The characters' avoidance only leads to a false sense of accomplishment and, worst of all, deviated affections - as the beautiful conclusion of the story describes.

On the talk went. And now it seemed they really had succeeded. She turned in her chair to look at him while she answered. Her smile said:"We have won." And he smiled back, confident: "Absolutely." But the smile undid them. It lasted too long; it became a grin. They saw themselves as two little grinning puppets jigging away in nothingness."

To read the very short full story, click here and let me know what you think in the comments section below.