Katherine Mansfield was born and raised in New Zealand but moved to England at the age of 19, and the central character in her short story "Miss Brill " can be presumed to be from Great Britain, although she could just as easily be from any of the other...
Katherine Mansfield was born and raised in New Zealand but moved to England at the age of 19, and the central character in her short story "Miss Brill" can be presumed to be from Great Britain, although she could just as easily be from any of the other English-speaking nations, such as the author's native New Zealand or the United States. She does seem, however, decidedly English, but she is living in France. The setting of "Miss Brill" is primarily the central square of an unnamed French town or city. Mansfield specifies the Jardins Publiques, which translates simply as "public gardens," which could refer to an area like the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, but could also apply to any number of other public gardens or parks in France. The other center of activity in "Miss Brill" is her apartment, a "little dark room" to which the titular figure retreats in defeat and sadness at the story's end. A bench, Miss Brill's favorite, at the public garden, however, is the main setting. From the bench there is a view of the bandstand.
The setting of "Miss Brill" is important because it allows for a dramatic contrast between the scale of human activity that takes place in this public area and the isolation and loneliness of the story's protagonist. The gardens are a vibrant, colorful area in which little children play, a band performs, and young and old couples alike share space and time. It also allows for a description of the protagonist's perspective and how Miss Brill observes the world around her. Note, for instance, the following passage, in which the narrator describes Miss Brill's regular Sunday pastime, people-watching while sitting on the bench:
"Other people sat on the benches and green chairs, but they were nearly always the same, Sunday after Sunday, and--Miss Brill had often noticed--there was something funny about nearly all of them. They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even--even cupboards!"
This passage is important. It illuminates Miss Brill's perspective. She silently observes others, oblivious to the fact, as will be revealed, that she herself is equally observed and found wanting. Miss Brill is a sad, lonely figure, and, it turns out, an anachronism--a character from an earlier, perhaps more genteel era. That is why Mansfield placed so much emphasis on the old fur Miss Brill takes out of a box and lovingly tends and puts on before going outside. The Jardins Publique may once have been a welcome environment to someone of Miss Brill's ilk, but no more. Time has passed her by.