[The following is told in the voice of the story’s narrator.]
Mrs. Raddick’s and her beautiful daughter waited on the steps of the casino. The daughter was incredibly beautiful with flushed cheeks, blue eyes, and golden curls. She “might have just dropped from this radiant heaven” (79), and Mrs. Raddick seemed to think so too -- if her appreciative glances were any indication. The girl; however, appeared only bored as if heaven had been full of casinos and they no longer held any interest for her.
Mrs. Raddick approached me, her handbag half open with its money in danger of falling out. Her twelve-year-old son Hennie followed behind. She thanked me for taking Hennie for the day so that she could go into the casino with her daughter. “Oh shut up, mother” (79) the girl said and her mother did. Desperate to please the girl, Mrs. Raddick gave her a hundred francs to use in the casino. They breezed by me and went up the steps to gamble. Hennie spotted an older woman and was disturbed by her unkempt appearance and asked me if she was a gambler.
While Hennie and I are still waiting on the steps of the casino for the car to arrive, I was surprised to see Mrs. Raddick, return, her daughter trailing behind her. Mrs. Raddick implores me to take both Hennie and the girl out. As it turns out her daughter is too young to gamble and Mrs. Raddick has had a terrible time dealing with her. The girl stood on the steps nearby, a disdainful expression on her face as if the whole world were beneath her. Another woman, Mrs. MacEwen from New York, hovered in the background. Mrs. Raddick explained that Mrs. MacEwen had already won a large sum of money and they were going back into the casino to try their luck with her winnings.
Mrs. Raddick left the three of us on the steps and return to the casino. Hennie looked devastated and I was irritated but tried to make the best of a bad situation. When the car arrived the girl wrapped herself in her coat and “even her little feet looked as thought they scorned to carry her down the steps to us” (80). In the car the girl said she didn’t want to go to the casino anyway and be stared at by fat old men.
We drove to a large palace of pink and white marble for tea. Once inside I chose a table and the girl reluctantly sat down, wincing at the sound of a violin playing nearby. We ordered drinks and although the girl claimed to not to want anything she ordered a hot chocolate; Hennie did the same.
I watched the girl take out her powder-box with a mirror on the lid and dab makeup on her nose with a small puff. She told Hennie to remove the flowers on the table and closed her eyes during the process as if she were in intense pain. The waitress arrived with the drinks and the girl pronounced her hot chocolate too sweet.
A boy came around with a tray of pasties and Hennie took some for his own plate. The girl could not watch Hennie while he handled his food and asked for only one pastry from the tray. The boy gave her four instead and the girl laughed, saying she couldn’t eat them all.
I began to relax and felt more comfortable in the girl’s presence. I asked her if I could smoke at the table, to which she replied, “Of course, I always expect people to” (82).
Hennie speared one of his tartlets too hard and half of it shot off of his plate. The girl yelled at him and to defuse her anger I asked if she liked being abroad. She considered this for a long time and gave a noncommittal response. Her mind was miles away.
They ordered ice cream next and I asked the girl if she liked it here and she looked around as if she did not know the place at all. An attractive older man stared openly at her from across the room but she looked through him, her lovely eyes trained on something no one else could see.
Finally tea was over and I sensed that the girl wanted to leave. She had trouble getting her glove over her diamond bracelet and turned away while I paid the bill. We climbed back into the car and the girl asked that the chauffeur to drive as fast as he could back to the casino. The powder-box reappeared and she shared a “deadly-secret” glance with her reflection.
Mrs. Raddick was not there to meet us when we arrived and I asked the girl to wait in the car but she grew distressed saying she wanted to wait on the steps and that she was always waiting around at one place or another. I watched her for a moment. “Her dark coat fell open, and her white throat- all her soft young body in the blue dress- was like a flower that is just emerging from its dark bud” (84).
"The Young Girl," written by Katherine Mansfield, was first published on October 29, 1920 in the literary magazine Athenaeum. Set in vibrant Monte Carlo in the early 1900s, the famous resort town in Monaco was home to a number of tourist attractions, most notably the Monte Carlo Casino where the narrator of "The Young Girl" meets Mrs. Raddick. Monte Carlo of the early twentieth century was a curiosity for tourists traveling abroad. The casino was a hotbed of loose morals, spectacle, and extravagance. Women were allowed to gamble although as Hennie’s comment on the casino’s steps about the unkempt woman indicates there was a social stigma associated with female gamblers at this time. Tourists like Mrs. Raddick; however, were tempted to try their luck in the casino halls while their children were cared for by others, like the narrator, who seems to have been roped into taking Hennie and the young girl out to tea despite his misgivings.
Mansfeild, a noted modernist, often experimented with structure and narration. In "The Young Girl" she deliberately creates a structure-less story centered on a brief encounter between the narrator and two young acquaintances that has no set beginning. The story is introduced in medias res. There are no character introductions or descriptions of setting. Instead Mansfield allows the characters’ stories and their surroundings to unfold as the narrative progresses. The identities of the two main character; however, remain a mysterious.
The gender of the narrator is also purposefully ambiguous, perhaps to allow for a more objective observation concerning the young girl’s beauty. The narrator, like the young girl is also nameless although his lack of identity creates ambiguity, hers is a stripping away of identity, revealing only her outward beauty to the world. The narrator of course sees beyond the young girl’s beauty and is curious as to why she behaves so badly at times. A hint toward the narrator’s gender arrives when he asks permission to smoke at the tea table, a social necessity for a man to ask a woman’s permission at this time. Hennie, who is twelve years old, would probably feel more comfortable with a male caretaker. Also the young girl’s shyness, her uncomfortable behavior around men would continue around the narrator if he were male.
Regardless of gender, the narrator is a trusted associate of Mrs. Raddick, as indicated by her quick retreat into the casino once the narrator agrees to take both of her children out for the day. Mrs. Raddick’s characterization as a careless mother is a reflection on the young girl’ strong personality as are most of the other characters in the text. Each character behaves in a particular way in anticipation of the young girl’s reactions. Note how Hennie behaves at the tea table, always deferring to the young girl’s wishes, never drawing attention to himself out of fear of his sister’s pointed remarks. Mrs. Raddick similarly seems to anticipate her daughter’s moods and tries to maneuver away from them, going so far as to pawn her children off onto someone else. Careless of her daughter’s thoughts, Mrs. Raddick flaunts the young girl’s beauty without regard for her inner wellbeing. As such the young girl reacts as if only her beauty is prized and not herself or her thoughts and she acts accordingly.
The narrator notes that the young girl is exceptionally beautiful. She seems aware of her beauty and more so of how the world perceives her good looks. She is allowed to get away with bad behavior because of her angelic appearance. Her demeanor is pointedly rude, often arrogant. She is negative and dismissive of her host and family. The only dialogue she exchanges with her mother is derogatory and she shamelessly bullies all those around her, although it should be noted that no strong male figure is presented in the text, aside from the narrator whose gender is, again, questionable. The men who are present seem stunned by her attractiveness. The young girl in turn views their attention as a burden, saying she does not want to be stared at all day by “fat old men.” Her behavior does seem overly odd and abrasive out of context but Mansfield does not provide a back-story as to why the young girl behaves as she does except to say that she can get away with it because of her appearance. The narrator does provide some insight in his observations when he sees the “deadly serious” look the young girl gives herself in the mirror as if she secretly views her good looks as a curse. In light of this insight the reader can surmise that the young girl’s behavior is as equally reactionary to everyone else as her own actions toward her family and the other characters. She does not want to be out in public out of fear that people will stare at her. She looks through others so she does not have to acknowledge their knowing glances at her face and features.
The young girl, so named to emphasize her youth and potential, is objectified to the point of nonidentity. She has barely lived, still too young to leave her family but old enough to know that when others stare at her they see only her outer self and no one seems interested in knowing her inner self. The theme of life and all of its particularities is so important in Mansfield’s work. The young girl, by comparison, lacks life and luster: she is blossoming on the edge of womanhood but is waiting for something or someone to acknowledge her independently of her beauty. The narrator compares her to a delicate flower after she flees the car and decides to wait on the steps of the casino for her mother. The young girl says she is waiting, that she is always waiting, for what exactly we will never know. Mansfield’s trademark ambiguous ending swallows whole whatever the young girl meant by “waiting” but perhaps it is simply that she is waiting for her real life to begin, away from her family, and toward a future of her own choosing.