At the Bay: Characters & Quotes

Instructor: Tina Miller

Tina earned an MFA in Creative Writing, has several published novels and short stories, and teaches English and writing.

While a place for swimming and sunning, the bay is also a place where women and children gather to gossip and to reflect. Meet some of the bay's inhabitants and beachgoers in Katherine Mansfield's 'At the Bay.'

Day at the Bay

It's just another day at the bay in Katherine Mansfield's ''At the Bay.'' Throughout the short story, readers are introduced to various characters, all of whom are related to or regularly associated the Burnell family. The individuals have distinct characteristics and opinions of their lives and others. With various quotes, the characters are revealed.

The Burnells

Linda Burnell is a mother and enjoys relaxing at the bay. She stares into nature. ''But as soon as one paused to part the petals, to discover the under-side of the leaf, along came Life and one was swept away. And, lying in her cane chair, Linda felt so light; she felt like a leaf.'' Yet, such moments are oft interrupted by her children. This time, it's her son who interrupts her solace. This shows her indifference for her children. ''And what was left of her time was spent in the dread of having children.'' Linda recalls her memories with her father when she dreamed of marrying Stanley Burnell. She did, and this is now her reality.

The Bay at Rest

While Linda shows some apprehension for her current life, she loves her husband, Stanley Burnell, ''Not the Stanley whom everyone saw, not the everyday one; but a timid, sensitive, innocent Stanley who knelt down every night to say his prayers, and who longed to be good. Stanley was simple.'' Stanley was a ginger-haired boy when he and Linda met. Stanley, the father of Linda's kids, goes about his days, dressed in suits, looking ''uncannily clean and brushed.''

Lottie, Isabel, and Kezia are three of the Burnell's daughters. Lottie is the youngest of the girls. She's playful yet indecisive and often lags behind the older girls. ''When she stood on the first step her knees began to wobble; she grasped the post. Then you had to put one leg over. But which leg? She never could decide.'' Isabel can swim 12 strokes and thinks that only babies play with their food. While not a baby, Kezia plays with her food. ''She had only dug a river down the middle of her porridge, filled it, and was eating the banks away.'' She wishes her grandmother will never die.

Mrs. Fairfield, Stanley's mother, is the caring grandmother. She prepares the kids for a day at the bay and watches over them while she knits. At the bay, she sits ''. . .in a lilac cotton dress and a black hat tied under the chin.''

Beryl and the Kemblers

Aunt Beryl is Linda's sister. She's always around, helping Stanley and assisting with the kids. Yet, she yearns for more. ''She wants someone who will find the Beryl that none of them know, who will expect her to be that Beryl always. She wants a lover.'' While she wants a lover, she does not want Mr. Harry Kembler.

Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield

Mr. Harry Kembler ''was so incredibly handsome that he looked like a mask or a most perfect illustration in an American novel rather than a man. Black hair, dark blue eyes, red lips, a slow sleepy smile, a fine tennis player, a perfect dancer, and with it all a mystery.'' Why doesn't Beryl want him as her lover? Well, he's married to Mrs. Harry Kembler.

Mrs. Harry Kembler is, at least, ten years older than her husband. The women think she is fast because of her vanity and swearing. She's a thorn in their perfect bouquet of society. ''. . . her voice always sounded as though she knew something more about you than you did yourself. She was a long, strange-looking woman with narrow hands and feet. Her face, too, was long and narrow and exhausted-looking; even her fair curled fringe looked burnt out and withered.'' Part of the reason the women dislike her is her enunciation of her servant's name, Gladys mispronounced as ''Glad-eyes.''

The Minor Minors and Adults

Some of the more minor characters populate the community. These characters' appearances are brief. There's the shepherd, ''a lean, upright old man, in a frieze coat that was covered with a web of tiny drops, velvet trousers tied under the knee, and a wide-awake with a folded blue handkerchief round the brim.''

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