Wealth in Common
Wealth in Common
Gifts, Desire, and Colonial Commodities in Woolf and Mansfield
This chapter considers the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield. Their relationship was complex and shifting, and characterized by intense feelings of personal and professional envy, as well as by intimacy, generosity, and a sense of being in tune with one another. Gifts and ideas of a gift economy recur in their fiction and two stories, Mansfield's “A Cup of Tea” and Woolf's “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street,” articulate the subversive possibilities of women giving gifts to other women, but simultaneously foreground the potential dangers of the gift. Both stories were written in 1922 and published in 1923, and the correspondences between them reaffirm the affinity Woolf and Mansfield shared. As these stories suggest, this extends to a sense of their affinity in “economic thinking” as this revolves around shifting notions of the gift and capitalist trade. The chapter explores the less obviously apparent colonial dimensions to these stories as it attempts to tease out the significance of the gift's associations with the colonial product par excellence—tea. Perceived as quintessentially British, tea is a transplanted and culturally transposed commodity; a commonplace comestible as well as a symbol of a long history of imperial brutality and economic exploitation. It functions here as part of the stories' criticism of hierarchies and distinctions of various kinds, bringing into question commonplace notions about identity and belonging.
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