Skip to main content

Her First Ball - Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)

Her First Ball is a 1921 short story by the New Zealand author Katherine Mansfield, first published in The Sphere magazine and later included in Mansfield’s collection The Garden Party and Other Stories. “Her First Ball” follows country girl Leila as she attends a dance with her city-dwelling cousins the Sheridans. Leila’s joy and excitement are briefly punctured by one of her dancing partners, an older man who paints a bitter picture of Leila’s future.

A young girl named Leila is about to attend her first ball, escorted by her cousins, MegLaurieLaura and Jose Sheridan. Leila is from the New Zealand countryside, and she has never been to a ball before, to the surprise of her wealthier and more experienced cousins. The story opens in a cab: Leila is on her way to her first ball with her cousins the Sheridans. The Sheridans tease her gently for never having been to a ball before, and Leila explains that her country home is very remote. She feels very excited about the ball, and about being part of a family: as an only child, she feels a little jealous of the Sheridan sisters and their brother. Leila tries to copy the Sheridans’ calm indifference to the ball, but she cannot.

When Leila and the Sheridans arrive at the drill hall, Laura helps escort Leila to the ladies’ room, where women are busy getting ready. Though Leila focuses only on the noise and excitement, the women are clearly stressed out, competing for mirror space and worrying about their appearances. Once the dance programs are passed out, Meg brings Leila to the drill hall. Leila is amazed by the beauty of the room.

At first, the ladies are lined up on one side of the room, and the men on the other. On the stage at the far end, sit the “chaperones,” (protectress) older women in black dresses.

Meg introduces Leila to the other girls as “my little country cousin Leila.” Leila notices that the girls she meets aren’t seeing her: their attention is on the men. Suddenly, the men approach as a group, and Leila finds her program marked by several men, including “quite an old man–fat, with a big bald patch on his head.” It takes the old man a long time to find a dance they both have free. He asks Leila, “Do I remember this bright little face?...Is it known to me of yore?” before he disappears for his first dance. The old man at first believes he recognises Leila from another ball, which of course is impossible, given that this is Leila’s first one. 

Leila remembers learning to dance in a “little corrugated iron mission hall” at her boarding school. Her first partner arrives, and she “floats away like a flower that is tossed into a pool.” Her partner comments that it’s “Quite a good floor,” and Leila replies that it’s “beautifully slippery,” which seems to surprise him. Leila thinks that he is a good dancer, and she compares him to the girls she had to dance with while she was learning. She tells him that it is her first ball. He replies indifferently: “Oh, I say.”

Her second partner is much the same as the first. He opens with a remark about the floor, and he is not very interested in the fact that it is Leila’s first ball. She finds this lack of interest surprising, because “it was thrilling. Her first ball! She was only at the beginning of everything. It seemed to her that she had never known what the night was like before.”

Leila’s next dance is with the balding older man. She sees that his outfit is “shabby,” and dancing with him is “more like walking than dancing.” Nevertheless, he recognises at once that Leila is at her first ball. She asks him how he knows this, and he replies that he has been coming to balls for thirty years. Leila is surprised. The fat man says “gloomily,” “‘It hardly bears thinking about,’” and Leila feels sorry for him. She makes a kind remark to cheer him up. He responds:

“Of course…you can't hope to last anything like as long as that. No-o… long before that, you'll be sitting up there on the stage, looking on, in your nice black velvet. And these pretty arms will have turned into little short fat ones, and you'll beat time with such a different kind of fan—a black bony one.’ The fat man seemed to shudder. ‘And you'll smile away like the poor old dears up there, and point to your daughter, and tell the elderly lady next to you how some dreadful man tried to kiss her at the club ball. And your heart will ache, ache’—the fat man squeezed her closer still as if he really was sorry for that poor heart—‘because no one wants to kiss you now. And you'll say how unpleasant these polished floors are to walk on, how dangerous they are. Eh, Mademoiselle Twinkletoes?”

Leila is upset. The man’s words strike her as “terribly true.” She’s angry at the old man, whom she believes “spoiled everything” by cluing her into her fate. The two stop dancing and Leila chooses to lean against the wall rather than return to the floor. The old man tells her not to take him seriously, and Leila scoffs but remains petulant (annoyed), thinking that she’d like to go home. Then she realises she will have to keep dancing until she can find her cousins.  Soon, however, another partner approaches and the two begin dancing. Suddenly, the ball seems beautiful again. Leila’s partner bumps into the old man, but she doesn’t recognise him and simply smiles.



Blackwood, Nicole. "Her First Ball Plot Summary." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 18 Oct 2020. Web. 1 Jul 2022.


Popular posts from this blog

BBS First Year English Question Paper with Possible Answers (TU 2021)

PROFESSIONS FOR WOMEN - Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Summary : Virginia Adeline Woolf (1882-1941) was an English novelist and essayist, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. She was one of the leaders in the literary movement of modernism.  The speech of  Professions for Women  was given in 1931 to the Women’s Service League by Virginia Woolf. It was also included in  Death of a Moth  and  Other Essays  in 1942. Throughout the speech, Virginia Woolf brings forward a problem that is still relevant today:  gender inequality .   Woolf’s main point in this essay was to bring awareness to the phantoms (illusions) and obstacles women face in their jobs. Woolf argues that women must overcome special obstacles to become successful in their careers. She describes two hazards she thinks all women who aspire to professional life must overcome: their tendency to sacrifice their own interests to those of others and their reluctance (hesitancy) to challenge conservative male attitudes .  She starts her

The Etiquette of Freedom - Gary Snyder

  In his essay " The Etiquette of Freedom ," Gary Snyder explores the concept of freedom in relation to nature and culture. He argues that freedom is not simply the absence of constraints (restrictions), but rather the ability to live in harmony with the natural world. This requires a deep understanding of the environment and a willingness to respect its limits. Snyder begins by defining the terms " wild " and " culture ." He argues that " wild " does not mean " untamed " or " uncivilised ," but rather " self-organizing ." A wild system is one that is able to maintain its own equilibrium (balance) without the intervention of humans. Culture, on the other hand, is a human-made system that is designed to meet our needs. Snyder then goes on to discuss the relationship between freedom and culture. He argues that our culture has become increasingly alienated from nature and that this has led to a loss of freedom. We have