Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
An aging, lonely woman living in Paris and maintaining herself by teaching English is the subject of this character portrait by Katherine Mansfield. Miss Brill’s life is one of shabby gentility and pretense; this impression commences in the opening paragraph as she lovingly takes an old-fashioned fox fur out of its box for her usual Sunday outing to the gardens. Looking forward to the new Season, she is, however, distracted by a peculiarly ominous feeling that seems to be in the air and for which she does not know how to account—“like the chill from a glass of iced water before you sip.” Maternally caressing the fur, she looks into its “dim little eyes,” hearing its fearful question: “What has been happening to me?” With this question, the narrator submerges the point of view into the psyche of Miss Brill, and the reader beholds her pathetic attempt to build a fantasy life to protect her from the harsh facts of her existence. Like the insidious illness that seems to be creeping to life inside her, Miss Brill is abruptly forced to confront the reality that her imagination seeks to escape: She is growing old and lonely in her exile, and the world is an unfriendly place for such people.
Occupying her “special seat,” Miss Brill gives only partial attention to the band music, for it is obvious that her main interest in coming to the park each week is to participate in the lives of people around her—in fact, she prides herself on her...
(The entire section is 931 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
“Miss Brill” brings to life one of Mansfield’s many lonely women, and the reader lives through this story in the main character’s mind without the author’s making any obvious comment. As the story opens, it is a Sunday afternoon in the autumn; a chill is in the air. In her room, Miss Brill, a lonely English teacher, prepares to go as usual to the Public Gardens in what appears to be a French city. She happily unpacks the fur she will wear for the first time this season, a piece that includes the head of a small animal, perhaps a fox. Miss Brill strikes the reader as imaginative, for she pretends she hears what the dead animal is thinking after being in storage for many months. She then feels a tinge of sadness. In her introductory paragraph, Mansfield’s details evoke the fragility of Miss Brill’s happiness.
At the Gardens, Miss Brill listens to the band play and watches the people. It is her idea of bliss. Though she yearns to talk to them, she must be content to listen. An old couple disappoints her, for they are silent; last week she heard a memorable conversation about eyeglasses—memorable to her, but trivial to the reader. Then Miss Brill takes her first step away from the superficiality of the afternoon. She reflects that most of the people she sees at the Gardens are old and strange. She hopes for their happiness.
In a surprise ending typical of the author, Mansfield then includes two very short paragraphs. The first...
(The entire section is 608 words.)
The Jardins Publiques (Public Gardens) in a French town on an early autumn Sunday afternoon is the setting for "Miss Brill." The air is still, but there is a "faint chill, like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip," so Miss Brill is happy to have worn her fur stole. The stole, in accordance to the fashions of the times, was constructed so that its fake eyes and nose could be attached to its tail, securing it around the wearer's neck. It is the first time she has worn it in a while. When preparing for her stroll in the park, she gives it a "good brush," "[rubs] the life back into the dim little eyes," and teasingly calls it her "little rogue."
Miss Brill watches the people in the park with delight. The band sounds "louder and gayer" to her than it has on previous Sundays. She listens to the concert from her "'special' seat" and is disappointed when the other two people seated there do not speak. Her favorite pastime on Sunday afternoon is to eavesdrop on people's conversations.
In one observation, Miss Brill notices that all the people sitting on the benches listening to the band are "odd, silent, nearly all old" and "looked as though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even—even cupboards." As Miss Brill listens to the band and watches the children playing, her thoughts drift from the pupils to whom she teaches English, to the old man to whom she reads the newspaper four days a week.
As her exuberance grows,...
(The entire section is 532 words.)