Miss Brill Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 16-page guide for “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield includes detailed summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Fear and Courage and The Power of Imagination.
“Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield explores human nature through themes such as the power of imagination and the role that each person plays in life. Miss Brill, a middle-aged, unmarried and lonely English woman living in a French city, recounts a Sunday afternoon outing to the Jardins Publiques (Public Gardens) in the early fall.
Told from her point of view, the outing reveals Miss Brill’s careful mental and emotional balancing act: she chooses to focus on the beauty and joy around her rather than the limitations or sadness of her life. A keen observer of the people, natural beauty, and music around her, Miss Brill absorbs all of the joy she can from her surroundings; Sundays in the park are the highlight of her week. During the week, she teaches English and reads to an old, invalid man to make her living.
A beautiful, rich young couple sit down next to her on her “special” bench. They threaten her equilibrium, casting her in the role of an unwanted, old woman, insulting her and mocking her fur necklet. Their cruel characterization forces her to see herself through their eyes; and she sees a very different image to the one she paints of herself. She feels that she is old and unwanted, and her carefully constructed façade crumbles.
Overcome by emotion, Miss Brill leaves the park and skips her weekly treat from the bakery, going home to her “cupboard” (4) of an apartment. The stark realities of her small, insignificant existence momentarily overwhelm her habitual cheer. She carefully puts away her furry companion, her day and her composure destroyed.