Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield Setting

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

It's her first ball and it's a heavenly occurrence! In this lesson, we'll look at the fairytale-like setting that awaits Leila in Katherine Mansfield's '~'Her First Ball,'~' including location, place and time.

Dancing Away

Do you remember the first dance you attended? Maybe it was a Sadie Hawkins Day dance in middle school or a more formal occasion like prom once you got to high school. You likely had a new oufit, flowers, and maybe even a date in a venue decorated for the occasion.

An elegant ballroom serves as the setting for the majority of this short story by Katherine Mansfield.
ball, ballroom, katherine, mansfield

The main character in Katherine Mansfield's ''Her First Ball,'' is experiencing her dance, formally called a ball, and we get a few clues about the setting of the experience from the author's writing. Let's take a look.

Setting of ''Her First Ball''


When the story opens, readers get a sneak peek into a cab being used by Leila and her cousins to travel to the dance. Mansfield gives the imaginative Leila something of a dance partner in the cab itself: ''It did not matter that she shared the cab with the Sheridan girls and their brother. She sat back in her own little corner of it, and the bolster on which her hand rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man's dress suit;''

It's clear that Leila is so excited to attend her first dance that she is envisioning wonderful things around her. She is in a new world - a country girl dropped into an elite and elegant society ball.

When the cab pulls up to the drill hall, the primary setting for the story, readers are treated to descriptions of the magical, almost fairy tale-like setting of the dance. There are colored flags strung across the ceiling, a ''most beautifully slippery'' parquet dance floor and lovely azaleas.

The description is so vivid you can almost imagine being there: ''She clutched her fan, and, gazing at the gleaming, golden floor, the azaleas, the lanterns, the stage at one end with its red carpet and gilt chairs and the band in a corner, she thought breathlessly, 'How heavenly; how simply heavenly!'''

Even the music helps to establish the setting with an instance of a ''soft, melting, ravishing tune.'' Leila cannot help herself from being overjoyed as her feet continued to glide to the music: ''The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel.''

The dream-like description of the ball brings happiness to Leila, which is nearly ruined by a dance partner later in the story: ''Oh, how quickly things changed! Why didn't happiness last for ever? For ever wasn't a bit too long.'' She is soon pulled out of her funk though by the glorious music and a new dance partner.


Though Mansfield never specifically tells readers where the ball takes place, we can glean Mansfield's intent with a little detective work. ''Her First Ball'' appears in the author's short story collection titled The Garden Party: and Other Stories, which features characters in Wellington, New Zealand, Mansfield's native home.

In New Zealand during this time, dances were a popular social outlet, giving young people the opportunity to socialize and dance the night away. Some young people in upper classes might even host a dance in the ballroom of their large family homes.

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