The Daughters of the Late Colonel: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson we'll look at a summary of the short story ''The Daughters of the Late Colonel,'' which is focused on a pair of daughters dealing with the death of their father. We'll also explore quotes from the story.

Deeply Emotional

Have you ever read a story where the emotions of characters seem more important than external action? If you've ever read a story by Katherine Mansfield, chances are you're familiar with this type of character-driven plot. Mansfield was well-known for writing deeply emotional short stories. Rather than telling us outright what her characters are feeling, Mansfield uses their actions and speech (or lack thereof) to show their emotions.

One example of this is the short story ''The Daughters of the Late Colonel,'' which follows two women as they deal with the death of their overly strict father. Mansfield uses their actions, conversations, and reactions to show us how conflicted they are over his death. It is in some ways a relief to them, yet also leaves them uncertain what to do next.

Katherine Mansfield was known for her emotionally deep stories
Katherine Mansfield

Dealing with Death

Our protagonists, the main characters in the story, are Josephine and Constantia Pinner. The story opens just after their father has died and tells us, ''The week after was one of the busiest weeks of their lives. Even when they went to bed it was only their bodies that lay down and rested…'' The women have many things to take care of in the week covered by the story, including the funeral and going through their father's possessions.

They also have to respond to sympathy letters. ''Josephine had replied to them all, and twenty-three times when she came to ''We miss our dear father so much'' she had broken down and had to use her handkerchief…'' This shows us how difficult it is for them to grapple with everything that is happening, leaving them no time to simply grieve and accept his death.

People Around Them

The two women's work is made harder by the people in their house. Nurse Andrews looked after their father up to his death, and the women invite her to stay with them for a week. After a day or two they realize what a chore it is to have a guest at this difficult time: ''But it was a bother. It meant they had to have regular sit-down meals at the proper times…And meal-times now that the strain was over were rather a trial.''

They also have to cope with their maid and cook, who is disrespectful as well as bad at her job. When they ask her to put jam on the table, ''Kate knelt and burst open the sideboard, lifted the lid of the jam-pot, saw it was empty, put it on the table, and stalked off.'' Constantia and Josephine are quite worried about what to do with her. They want to fire her now that they don't need her to cook for their father, and discuss how they had wanted to fire her for a long time. However, they are indecisive and worried about telling her to leave.

Finally, they are visited by Mr. Farolles, a church clergy member who wants to help arrange the funeral. He offers to do a personal communion for them, ''but the idea of a little Communion terrified them.'' They can't imagine doing such a religious ceremony in their drawing-room with no other people around.

Internal Struggles

Much of the story focuses on how the Pinners are feeling and their reactions to their father's death. Through these characters, Mansfield shows us how strict the father was, and how his death comes as something of a relief. At the funeral, Josephine is suddenly terrified at having buried her father without asking his permission. Later, the women are struck again by the idea that, ''Father would never forgive them. That was what they felt more than ever when, two mornings later, they went into his room to go through his things.''

Josephine and Constantia are now having to do things they were always forbidden to do, such as sorting through their father's belongings. They cannot bring themselves to do it so soon after the funeral, and end up locking the dresser and leaving the room alone.

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