Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill

726 Words3 Pages
Katherine Mansfield’s short story, “Miss Brill,” describes the life of Miss Brill, an elderly woman making a living by teaching English in Paris. The story begins with Miss Brill lovingly taking out an old fur from its box for her usual Sunday outing to the Jardin Publiques, French for Public Gardens. While gently stroking the fur, she looks into its “sad little eyes,” and hears its fearful question: “What has been happening to me?” Following this question, Mansfield switches the point of view into Miss Brill’s psyche, and exposes the reader to the aging woman’s attempt to live in a fantasy life that she believes will protect herself from the harsh reality. Miss Brill is abruptly forced to confront the reality that her imagination seeks to…show more content…
The honorific, “Miss,” traditionally addresses only single (and young) women, but Miss Brill’s choice of fashion implies an older woman past her prime. The term, “brill,” can be defined as a common fish with neither commercial nor culinary value, but also suggests the adjective “brilliance.” This reinforces the divide that exists between Miss Brill's own perception of her life and its reality. Miss Brill’s observations of others and thoughts that they had "just come from dark little" cupboards when she herself retreats to "her room like a cupboard" when the couple’s rude comments puncture her illusion comprise the central irony of the story. Thus the name "Brill" heightens the disparity between reality and…show more content…
She views her surroundings as part of play in which she “was part of the performance after all.” Rather than a common bystander, she portrays herself as an indispensable actress that “somebody would have noticed if she hadn’t been there.” As an essential part of this large stage, Miss Brill convinces herself that her actions and existence hold substantial significance. Her literal perceptions and imagination invent accounts for her somewhat hysterical attempt to participate in life as more than a spectator. However, her efforts to retreat into that fantasy world merely delays the truth; her efforts to coerce others into her fantasy, such as the “ermine toque and gentleman in grey” who meet in front of her, becomes a way for her to participate in life without risking her emotions. In reality, Miss Brill is a part of nothing. She sits alone on a bench with her old fur and watches the world pass before her. She sees other people sitting on benches Sunday after Sunday and thinks of them as "funny...odd, silent, nearly all old...as though they'd just come from dark little rooms." Yet, rather than seeing herself as one of them, she stubbornly refuses to face the

More about Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill

Open Document