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In the short story, “The Singing Lesson” written by Katherine Mansfield, the story traces the one-day-experience of the protagonist, Miss Meadows. Miss Meadows worked at a school as the music teacher, teaching students to express their emotions through music.
However on one sudden day, her day-to-day cheerfulness disappeared when she received a letter from her fiancé, Basil. The letter claimed that Basil regretted the idea of marrying her and Miss Meadows became miserable on reading that. Throughout the lesson, her head was stuck in the letter, unable to move past it. And this sudden behaviour put a strain on her students and on the lesson.
The story opens on a fine autumn morning. Miss Meadows was on her way to the hall to teach her students. She was already not in a good mood, cold sharp despair-buried deep in her heart, when she was stopped by the Science Mistress who was sweet, pale like honey and had a pretty smile on her face.
As she tried to make small talk with Miss Meadows, the latter replied curtly (rudely) and left, her minds unable to leave the contents of the letter. The letter came from her fiancé, Basil, who had written to call off the wedding. The letter pierced Miss Meadows’ heart as she went over the contents again and again. The letter said that Basil thinks their marriage would be a mistake and he didn’t want to live with that regret. Such a letter is enough to send anyone into grief.
Soon Miss Meadows made her way to the music hall where forms four, five and six had assembled for their lesson. Miss Meadows favourite student, Mary Beazely, was ready for the daily ritual of presenting the teacher with flowers which Miss Meadows used to accept happily.
However, this time she completely ignored Mary Beazely and turned towards the class and told them page fourteen, please, and mark the accents well. The so-called music peace was “A Lament” and it seemed to aptly suit the mood of their teacher, though it was not known to the students.
As the music echoed in the hall, Miss Meadows continued being lost in the letter. She tried in vain to recollect what went wrong in their relationship. This was so sudden that she was unable to believe it. Only the last letter that she received from him said how he wanted to buy a fumed-oak bookcase to keep “our” books together and about a natty little hat stand.
Though the song from her students continued, Miss Meadows was lost in her thoughts. She remembered the last time Basil came to see her and how handsome he looked in that bright blue suit. She kept recalling the contents of the letter which said that he was not a marrying man yet he had once confessed to her that one way or the other he had gotten fond of her.
She then focused on her students and told them it was not the proper way to do it. She asked them to put expression to the song by feeling the sadness, grief and sorrow. They must break on the last line as if they were fading away to die.
Miss Meadows then realized with a start that she would not be able to face her students and her colleges especially the Science Mistress once the news of her marriage broken off was spread. She would have to leave, to fade away. While she was thinking this, a door opened and a little girl in blue walked up to her saying the headmistress, Miss Wyatt, wanted to see Miss Meadows.
She rushed to the headmistress’s room who informed she had a telegram for her. The first thought that came in Miss Meadows’s head was that Basil had committed suicide, she quickly tore off the pink letter and read the contents. Basil had written it to say that she should ignore the last letter as he had been mad enough to write it.
Miss Meadows couldn’t control her happiness at the prospect of such good news and left for the hall. Only this time her walk was of joy and happiness. When she entered the music hall again, she made it a point to praise the flowers given my Mary and asked the students to sing another song.
The song, which they sang at the end, was indeed not a lament but a joyful song, page thirty two. It talked about flowers and fruits and ribbons and Miss Meadows asked her students to feel the happiness through the song and express it out.
The reason for Basil to write such a letter was not known throughout the story, but the final letter from him brought joy and happiness to Miss Meadows. Her life around Basil seemed to be a happy one when she played the joyful song at last. The story took place in one singing lesson and revolved around the inner confusion and happiness of the protagonist over the letters.