Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield

Leila has turned 18, so must now attend balls in order to find a husband. Her city cousins, The Sheridans, introduce Leila to this exciting, dream-like world.

HER FIRST BALL TEXT (pdf, with line numbering)



Her First Ball Close Reading Test (doc)

photo by itspaulkelly (flickr, creative commons)

25 thoughts on “Her First Ball by Katherine Mansfield

  1. Pingback: Level 1 Further Reading- Katherine Mansfield « Miss French's NCEA English Blog

    • Why? Okay. I get a number of requests like this. Here is my response to all of you.

      First, because I don’t have the answers written down. I know what they are. Inside my head. I’m not about to type them up for you. I can’t be bothered.

      Second, because this request unsettles me. There seems to be a lazy attitude in some who’ve grown up with the Internet. It involves a sense of entitlement, which leads you to assume that any content you could wish for should be right there at your fingertips… without your needing to talk with teachers, visit a library or even to think for engage in close reading. The Internet is created by people. We donate our time in order to add something to the corpus. Ask yourselves, what is *your* contribution to this corpus of information that’s out there, free? Stop expecting and start creating.

      Third, this is literature and interpretation; not mathematics. There’s no such thing as ‘the answers’. There is a set of possible answers.

      Fourth, I’ve already spent a lot of my own time creating and uploading Katherine Mansfield resources. If you can’t find what you need here, ask your English teacher. They get paid to help you. I don’t.

      That said, had you engaged with me in a more thoughtful manner, commenting on something specific rather than requesting ‘The Answers’, which makes me think you want me to do your homework for you on a Sunday night, I would have been more than happy to have a discussion.

  2. mam/sir, I am Poonam an indian IGCSE STUDENT. We have studied her first ball in our syllabus and it is going to be an essential part of our board examinations. I am very impressed by the reading test and would like to show it to you with my responses. Could you please have a look and comment on my reading skills? I can mail my test to you.

  3. thankyou I shall do so shortly. Could you help me with other notes and analysis with some stories. I have worked on some and would like you to help me further analysis. Please?

  4. Alright mam. I shall ask you my questions as and when I come accross certain doubts. I am highly interested by this subject of english literature and am head over heels in joy to have your guidance.

  5. Mam, as I had promised, here is my reading test….

    1a. Give an example of personification in the first paragraph.
    The attribution of a young man’s outfit feel to the bolster is a piece of personification:
    The bolster on which her hand rested felt like the sleeve of an unknown young man’s dress suit ; and away they bowled, past waltzing lamp-posts and houses and fences and trees.

    1b. How does this relate to what is happening in the story?
    This describes how Leila is mesmerized by her new environment. Everything is exceedingly fascinating an unbelievably perfect to her.

    1c. Find another example of personification which has the same relativity on page 76.
    Little satin shoes chased each other like birds.
    2. What are two things that you find out about Leila’s background?
    She comes from the village and therefore finds modern lifestyle very unusual (in a +ve manner) and lovely.

    3. What details emphasise the excitement of the girls?
    Everyone is extremely occupied dressing up and enhancing their appearance. No one bothers what the other one needs or is doing. Moreover, everyone is exceedingly delighted and euphoric to pick out the programmes.

    4. Give two examples which show that Leila had had a moment of homesickness.
    In between of the ball, Leila remembers her times in the village of how she had longed for staying at home and emphasised upon the owls crying “more pork”. Furthermore she remembers her select classes with miss Escles that gives her a hint of homesickness.

    5. How is Meg a little patronising to Leila?
    She tries to signify her importance by introducing Leila to the other young ladies. This also makes Meg feel worldly and important.

    6. Explain why you think ‘select’ is enclosed in inverted commas.
    It relates to the selection of a dance partner. Anyone would desire to have a go with an elegant woman and a graceful dancer. Therefore, one has to fit the bill to get “selected”.

    7. How is Leila saved from ‘dying’?
    After being terribly hurt by the fat man, she is saved from dying as she is able to adapt to the situation and sink in her terrible experience.

    8. Give two examples which show that Leila’s first partner may have thought her a little strange.
    Firstly, Leila responded quite abruptly to the young man which is a little harsh and secondly, he can notice her discomfort and consciousness taking in account to the fact that it is her first ball.

    9. How does Leila’s attitude to the night change?
    As the ball progresses, everything becomes less thrilling and familiar to Leila. Also, after the encounter with the fat man, Leila is able to break through her fairy land and gets mature.

    10. Give one example of how the old man says Leila will change physically and one reason why he says her heart will ache.
    He talks about her hands transforming into short fat ones. He says her heart will ache because as no one will be willing to kiss her then.

    11. What line tells you that Leila began to feel like a child again?

    “As if I should!” said Leila, tossing her small dark head and sucking her underlip. . . . (1)

    12. Identify a metaphor in the last paragraph. What is the effect of this?

    The lights, the azaleas, the dresses, the pink faces, the velvet chairs, all became one beautiful flying wheel.
    This describes a change in Leila’s attitude and how everything became pleasant and marvellous again. (2)

    Now, could you please have a look at it and comment upon my reading skills? Any advice?

  6. Hello again Poonam. I’m impressed at the amount of effort you’ve put into understanding this story. I will offer some comments on some of your answers:

    1a. Personification is when an object is given human characteristics (e.g. a piece of paper ‘scuttles’ across the school yard’, or a teapot ‘sings’). So the personification in the first paragraph of this story is the ‘waltzing’ lamp posts. You’ve given an example of a simile, which is a comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as’. Both of these things are example of figurative language, but they’re not exactly the same.

    1b. So, to Leila, everything looks like it’s dancing and lively because she’s going to a dance. The dancing itself symbolises excitement and fervour.

    3. For questions like this, it pays to give short quotations from the work (enclosed in speech marks) while using your own language to describe the answer. That’s the safest thing to do in an exam situation.

    4. Again, for English exams your marks depend as much on your exam technique as on your appreciation and understanding of the text. So if in an exam you’re asked to give two examples, avoid giving three. You’ll find that of those three examples you offered, two are less ambiguous than the third. Choose the two that are the most obvious.

    5. There are a number of answers you could provide for this question, and yours is fine. Again, I’d pick short quotes to support your answer. An unambigously patronising thing that Laura said was, ‘Hold on to me, Leila; you’ll get lost’, even though they were in an enclosed dance hall, so the possibility of Leila’s getting lost was really quite slim.

    6. When select is used as an adjective it means a slightly different (but related) thing from when it’s used as a verb. As an adjective, ‘select’ suggests that something has been hand picked (selected) and is therefore of high quality. The dance lessons in the village were not really of high quality — it’s simply that dance classes themselves were considered exotic (hence Miss Eccles ‘of London’), and the country folk had nothing better with which to compare them. So the word ‘select’ is in inverted commas because Leila now realises that they were no such thing; not compared to this sophisticated dance.

    7. Of course, ‘dying’ is not meant in the literal sense, so it’s preferable to retain the inverted commas in your answer. This question refers to what happens much earlier in the story, when she thinks she’ll ‘die’ if no one dances with her. But someone does choose her after all.

    8. Best to quote: ‘The faint voice sounded surprised’ and ‘there was a tiny pause’.

    9. I’m not sure the ball ever became ‘familiar’ to Leila over the course of the story, but she does go on a rollercoaster of emotions — first ecstatic, next fearful, then relieved, then excited, then abject, and finally happy and somewhat at ease.

    12. You’ve correctly identified the metaphor in the last paragraph. I think there might be several possible answers for the next part of the question. Different readers will get different things from this story, but my interpretation is that not only did everything become pleasant and marvellous again, but for one brief moment on the dance floor, the old man gave Leila an unwelcome taste of reality. Everything became clear: Leila’s future, the inevitability of ageing, loss of enthusiasm and innocence, But she didn’t like this, so she forgot about it; in the whirlwind of youthful excitement, reality became a blur, just as the beautiful flying wheel also became a blur. To be more specific, the blur of the spinning wheel symbolises the blur which which Leila chooses to envision her own, far less exciting future.

  7. Thankyouu so much! I can now understand and interpret so much more than earlier. Have you any other stories with annonated documents and tests like these?

  8. Hi, i’ve got to work out an emphatic question on her first ball:
    ‘You are Leila, write your feelings just after having danced with the old man.’
    Could you please help me with that?

    • You’re being asked to describe your own feelings, so I’m not sure anyone could really help you with that. Just make something up.

  9. Yes but the old man’s dialogue comes a bit at the end and i have to write an essay of about 350-500 words. How will i manage? Can i write something irrelevant or the whole of the essay should comprise ONLY of my feelings? Please give me some advice ma’am, my friends and i are from Mauritius and are counting a lot on you…

  10. Can you tell me if this answer is correct?

    Q.What is the object of the fat man.What does he remind the reader of?

    Ans. (I think) He is there to tell Leila to live life to the fullest. That’s all …hehehe i know it’s nothing but please can you help me.BTW it’s a short answer .I don’t know what he reminds me off

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