Reggie knew he had little chance of convincing Anne Proctor to marry him. While dressing in his room Reggie imagined the different ways in which Anne would reject his proposal but he felt he had to at least try before he left. His Uncle had given him a fruit farm in Rhodesia and he was due to leave England for the island the next day. Putting his tie on, and lamenting his less than handsome appearance, Reggie daydreamed of taking Anne away to his fruit farm and holding her in his arms. He loved her with all of his heart and perhaps his love would be enough for both of them.
Reggie knew that Anne was the most popular desirable woman in the neighborhood and thought she was absolutely perfect. He admired her parents, Col. Proctor and his wife very much but knew they would not want Anne to move so far from home. Reggie understood all that was stacked against him, including his frequent bouts of ill health and modest income but he had to know if Anne could ever care for him as he did her.
Setting out Reggie came upon his mater as she was walking up the garden path with her two dogs and a pair of scissors. She asked in an authoritative voice where he was going and told him he should be staying home to spend his last day with her. Reggie noted her tone of disapproval and winced as she trimmed flower stems. He did not tell her where he was going and set out for the Proctor house. On his way he reflected that being a widow’s only son was a terrible burden. He had no other family to turn to -- his mother had isolated herself when he was a boy. Reggie loved and admired his mother especially her iron spirit but he thought her a grim parent overall and wished things had been different between them.
The air was moist as he turned onto the Proctor property. Reggie realized he did not know what he wanted say to Anne. Just as his hand rang the bell he panicked, realized he wasn’t ready to talk at all and needed more time but the maid answered the door almost immediately and ushered him into the sitting room. Reggie prayed for courage “Lord Thou knowest, Thou has not done much for me…” (74.) The bell was still sounding when Anne herself came into the room.
Anne extended her hand to Reggie and told him her parents were out but she would be happy to entertain him. Reggie stammered a reply and told her he had come to say goodbye. Anne was startled by this news for a moment and then she began to laugh uncontrollably.
Anne had done this to him many times before. In fact there were times when she could not stop laughing at him even when there was nothing to laugh at. She called it her bad habit and apologized. Reggie told her he loved to hear her laugh although neither knew why she laughed at him. Reggie suspected it troubled her and presently she calmed herself and offered him a cigarette.
Reggie thought she looked stunning sitting as she did. They made small talk about his plans to return home and they could hear the cooing of Anne’s pet doves.
Reggie confided that he hated the thought of going back to the fruit farm. Anne told him her father deeply admired Reggie for making his own way in life but she thought he must be lonely all by himself so far from home. Reggie began to blush and said he didn’t mind the loneliness but he would miss… As Reggie’s voice trailed off, his meaning became uncomfortably clear and Anne had jumped up from her chair and moved away from him, inviting him into the side veranda to see her doves.
Reggie opened the door of the veranda for Anne and she walked past laughing, he assumed at the doves. In their cage the two doves walked back and forth: the male dove bowing and chasing the female, the female beckoning him forward but never allowing herself to be caught. Anne said they did this all the time and she had named them Mr. and Mrs. Dove.
While she was feeding the doves, Reggie asked Anne if she could ever care for him and she replied that she could not. Reggie hardly had time to come to terms with what she said. Anne had walked past him and down the garden path to the lawn. There she told him that she did care for him and liked him very much but she couldn’t marry a man she laughed at and she did just that. Anne began to laugh at Reggie saying it was his tie that she thought was funny but she could see it upset him and she apologized.
Reggie grasped her hand and said he understood that she was above him in everyway and knows he’s ridiculous but he would like the chance to prove his worth to her. She cut him off. Anne said she was the one with the flawed character, she was a dreadful person and Reggie was kind and he deserved better. Anne said the way she felt for Reggie was not like the love she read about in books or what she had imagined love would feel like.
Anne hoped he understood because she did care for him, as a person, and she did not want him to go away with sad thoughts and to think she was horrible and to only have his mater to write to… Then she compared them to Mr. and Mrs. Dove saying it wouldn’t be fair to either of them. That he would always be chasing her and she would be laughing at him and running away. They would not have a good marriage.
It was too much for Reggie. To be compared to doves. He walked across the lawn and said he would get over her in time and for her not to worry about him but Anne called out to him. “How wrong, how wicked, feeling as I do. I mean, it’s all very well for Mr and Mrs Dove. But imagine that in real life- imagine it!” (77.)
Reggie was surprised to see that Anne was no longer laughing: she looked as if she wanted to cry. She said he was cruel to walk away now before she was satisfied that he would be happy when he went away. She could not stand the thought of him being upset with her. She asked him to go back to how he felt before he had asked her to marry him but Reggie could not do that.
He told her not to pity him and said it was fated that they should not be together and he turned and fled down the lawn away from her.
Then Anne called out to him and he stopped and turned and she saw his puzzled face and she laughed. “Come back, Mr. Dove” (78). And he did.
"Mr. and Mrs. Dove," by Katherine Mansfield was first published in the literary magazine Sphere on August 13, 1921. Set in England in the early twentieth century, the protagonist, Reggie, wants to ask his friend and neighbor, Anne, to marry him before he returns to his fruit farm in Rhodesia, a British territory in southern Africa. Reggie’s return to England was prompted by ill health and financial difficulties. His downtrodden personality is only revitalized when he thinks of Anne, his beloved. His love for Anne lifts his spirits, gives him courage, and fills him with a desire to prove himself worthy of her affections. He does not have a plan as to how he will accomplish this but what he lacks in foresight, Reggie makes up for in compassion. Rounding out the narrative is Anne’s more practical view on their relationship and its future.
Using a third person narrative, Mansfield examines the idea of marriage and gender relations through the male and female perspectives, an uncommon point of view for the time period. As a modernist, Mansfield often departed from traditional modes of storytelling. The story is seemingly structure-less, as Reggie’s inner thoughts and anxieties propel him to ask Anne Proctor, his friend and neighbor, to marry him in a misguided yet endearing display of “all or nothing” romanticism. Their animal counterparts, two caged doves, later humble them: they seem poorly suited for each other.
The two main characters are possibly as incompatible as their avian counterparts. Reggie is a decent man, perhaps prone to melancholia but not incapable of accepting a challenge. Anne is his idealized woman. He notes her perfect personality and genius in all matters and yet fails to see her faults. Reggie seems unconcerned that she laughs at him, uncontrollably at times and makes excuses for her behavior. Can Reggie be so blinded by his love that he cannot see that Anne is openly dismissive of him and his affections? Like Mr. Dove, Reggie chases after Anne but she shies away from him. Anne, petted and pampered, presumably brought up to adhere to social niceties is unable to control her laughter around Reggie. This spontaneous response is never fully explained in the story, Mansfield leaves this detail tantalizing unanswered, but the reader can surmises that Anne’s behavior is either truly involuntary or a sign of her immaturity. Perhaps Anne laughs because she finds Reggie so far from her own idealized version of a mate that the idea of a sexual relationship between them is comical in comparison. As Reggie mentally molds Anne into his idealized version of the perfect woman, Anne too rejects Reggie because he does not fit her idea of a proper husband and lover. Anne’s romantic point of view comes from the novels she reads and perhaps as a byproduct of her parent’s marriage. Like Mrs. Dove, Anne wants to run from Reggie’s affections because she is afraid to indulge in them, fearing she will not live up to his idealized version. Although Mansfield only briefly switches from the male to female perspective in "Mr. and Mrs. Dove" she clearly shows that both genders equally romanticize the other and are as equally disappointed once the unadorned truth is revealed.
The characters also idealize marriage, a reoccurring theme in the text. Reggie views marriage as an escape from loneliness. He imagines taking Anne to his fruit farm and providing a good life for her and proving himself worthy of her love. Although lovesick, Reggie does realize he may not be the best suitor for Anne’s affections, most notably because he lives so far away and he knows it would be a hardship for Anne and her family if she were to leave England. His spirits are lifted; however, when he is in her presence and he finds himself unconsciously comforted by her lively nature. Reggie’s experience with marriage is limited having lost his father at a young age and was raised by his mother. Reggie’s idea of marriage is one that has been collected over time and from various sources. He understands the structure but not the subtext. Anne, on the other hand, seems overly familiar with the idea and has already considered the practicalities of marrying Reggie. Unlike the romanticized marriages she reads about in her books, Anne knows that Reggie overcompensates in his affections for her by overlooking her faults. She finds her own character flaws troubling and thinks she is not the right person for Reggie because she knows if they were to be together and to marry, her cruel streak would win out. She would dominate the relationship and make sweet, naive Reggie miserable. It is telling that Anne considers all of this, knowing both her own and Reggie’s shortcomings while trying to let Reggie down easily all the while preserving the perfect image he has of her. Anne is pleased by Reggie’s attention but genuinely does not seem to want to marry him. Yet she calls him back to her after he leaves.
Mansfield, like her fellow modernists, often ended her stories ambiguously. When Anne calls Reggie back after he leaves the reader knows he goes back to her but to what end? The reader can only speculate, but if the two main characters are anything like their anthropomorphic counterparts this last scene is similar to the mating rituals of the domesticated dove. Many dove breeds notoriously mate for life unless uncontrollable circumstances drive the mates away from one another such as death or human intervention. During the mating ritual, the male dove postulates, cooing and displaying himself to the female who often shies away. The male will chase the female, asserting his dominance but he will not usually mount her unless given permission. Only when the female stops running away and allows the male to preen her and she him does she accept his invitation. Interestingly many doves mate for life even if they are not necessarily compatible. If Anne’s behavior mimics that of a dove she may have allowed herself to be loved by Reggie after all. Then again maybe she didn’t. As always, Mansfield leaves room for the reader’s interpretation.