The Sheridan family is preparing to host a garden party. Laura is supposed to be in charge, but has trouble with the workers who appear to know better, and her mother (Mrs. Sheridan) has ordered lilies to be delivered for the party without Laura's approval. Her sister Jose tests the piano, and then sings a song in case she is asked to do so again later. After the furniture is rearranged, they learn that their working-class neighbor Mr. Scott has died. While Laura believes the party should be called off, neither Jose nor their mother agrees. The party is a success, and later Mrs. Sheridan decides it would be good to bring a basket full of leftovers to the Scotts' house. She summons Laura to do so. Laura is shown into the poor neighbors' house by Mrs. Scott's sister, then sees the widow and her late husband's corpse. She suddenly has insight into a topic persistently concerned—the matter of life and death.
In the title story, Mansfield concentrates on young Laura Sheridan on the afternoon of her family's garden party. The story follows the family through the preparations--flags to identify the different sandwiches, the delivery of cream puffs, the setting up of a marquee on the lawn. This perfect idyll is broken, however, by news of a fatal accident down the lane. A young workman has been killed, leaving a wife and five children. While Laura believes the party should be called off, neither Jose nor their mother agrees. Later Mrs. Sheridan decides it would be good to bring a basket full of leftovers to the house of the dead. She summons Laura to do so. Laura is shown into the poor neighbors' house by Mrs. Scott's sister, then sees the widow and her late husband's corpse. Her heart was filled with sympathy and insight.
Virginia Woolf once described Katherine Mansfield as "of the cat kind, alien, composed, always solitary and observant."
- The Garden Party