Katherine Mansfield

Miss Brill

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Miss Brill Summary

On a crisp, beautiful fall Sunday, as she sits on her “special” (1) bench, Miss Brill remembers taking out her special fox fur necklet and carefully preparing it for her weekly outing to the Jardins Publiques, or Public Gardens. After brushing the fur, polishing the little creature’s glass eyes, and fixing his squashed nose, Miss Brill discloses that he is not just a fur; he is a “rogue” (1) and a companion.

Miss Brill notices every detail of her surroundings as she sits in the park; she comments on the chill in the air and the band conductor’s new coat and his proud manner of conducting, “like a rooster about to crow” (1). The music seems “louder and gayer” (1) today with the Season starting.

Sharing her “special” (1) seat with an old couple she has seen here before, she is disappointed that they don’t talk, because she enjoys listening in on other people’s lives. She reveals that eavesdropping is one of her favorite parts of Sundays in the park, where she can imagine “sitting in other people’s lives just for a minute” (1).

Remembering the English couple who sat next to her the previous week, she recounts her disgust with the wife, who discussed at length her need for spectacles and refusal to get them, while her patient husband attempted to help her by pointing out solutions to all the difficulties she imagined spectacles would cause. Miss Brill “wanted to shake her” (2).

Continuing to observe the people in the park this Sunday, Miss Brill describes all of the characters that pass by: little children running around being chased by their mothers, older children playing, running, and laughing, young couples meeting up for a stroll, and two peasant women walking through the park leading donkeys. Miss Brill comments that the people in the park each Sunday are nearly always the same, and that there is 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!” (2).

Suddenly, a scene takes place before her: an older woman meets up with a man she knows. She wears a faded, old ermine toque; she is all the same color—yellow and faded—as her hat. He brushes her off rudely, blowing smoke from his cigarette in her face and marching away. The older lady pretends to see another, better acquaintance in the distance and hurries off. Miss Brill sympathizes with this woman, imagining that the band drum beats out, “’The Brute! The Brute!’” (2), in response to the man’s callous rudeness. The old couple gets up and walks away.

Miss Brill realizes that the scene before her reminds her of a play; they are all actors on the stage of life. In this way, she can imagine herself as an important actress in the play, a necessary and integral part of life. She realizes that this is why she is shy about telling her English students about what she does on Sundays. She even imagines the old, invalid man she reads to being impressed that he is being read to by an actress. She imagines telling him that she has been an actress for a long time.

The band starts up again, and Miss Brill imagines all of the company—all of the strangers in the park—singing along with the band. They are all part of something uplifting and wonderful.

At this moment, a young couple sits down beside her and Miss Brill immediately casts them as the hero and heroine of her internal play. Intent on their own lives, the young man wants the young woman to tell him she loves him. She refuses. The young man assumes that his girlfriend is shy because of the old lady sitting next to them: he insults Miss Brill, calling her a “stupid old thing” (3) whom nobody wants and who should “keep her silly old mug at home” (3). In turn, the girl laughs at Miss Brill’s fur, which she says looks like a “fried whiting” (3).

Miss Brill goes straight home, not stopping in the bakery for her usual piece of honey-cake, a weekly treat. She sits on her bed, in her “little dark room—her room like a cupboard” (4) for a long time; then, she gently puts her fur necklet away. She imagines that she hears something crying as she shuts the lid.

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