Miss Brill Summary

Instructor: Beth Hendricks

Beth holds a master's degree in integrated marketing communications, and has worked in journalism and marketing throughout her career.

Katherine Mansfield's ''Miss Brill'' is a study in one woman's loneliness and mental state. In this lesson, you'll learn more about Miss Brill as we summarize this short story about her Sunday at the park.

Summarizing Miss Brill

You can sometimes tell the nature of a story by the title, and Katherine Mansfield's 1920 tale, Miss Brill is no exception. This is a story about the mind of a lonely woman and, yes, her name is Miss Brill.

An Ordinary Life

Miss Brill is an ordinary, but solitary, middle-aged woman. She spends her days teaching English to children and reading to an aged gentleman, who spends her entire visit sleeping. There is not much excitement in Miss Brill's life. Then, Sunday comes.

Sunday is Miss Brill's day to relax and enjoy herself. This particular Sunday, she dons her fur, though it is warm outside, and prepares to head out for her weekly ritual: a trip to a French park called Jardins Publiques. The fur is a source of comfort for Miss Brill, though it has been in better shape in previous, and she actually talks to it like a companion: 'Little rogue!' she says.

An Afternoon in the Park

Suited and ready to go, Miss Brill makes her way to the park to enjoy the sounds of the band. She assumes her usual seat and notes that there are more people out than the prior Sunday. She is very aware of the band, familiar with their choice of tunes and observing the conductor's new coat.

While listening to the music, Miss Brill uses the trip to the park to people-watch. Secretly, Miss Brill likes to eavesdrop on people's conversations. She has figured out how to listen to them without looking like she is listening.

Watching People

The first couple Miss Brill focuses on is an older couple. She's disappointed because this particular couple is too quiet and too still. She entertains herself by watching the people moving about around them, including children running around and people stopping to buy flowers. Miss Brill, while looking around, surmises that most everyone in the park is strange and many of them old and pale.

The band plays on while Miss Brill continues observing her park company. She spies two girls and two soldiers and a woman and young boy. She settles her gaze on a woman in an ermine toque, or white fur hat, and her gentleman companion. The woman, she notices, is trying to get the man to pay attention to her, but he appears uninterested, smoking and eventually walking away from her. Miss Brill feels like the band begins to play more softly out of respect for the woman's sad situation.

Figuring Things Out

It is a play, she thinks to herself! Everyone here is part of a play. 'They weren't only the audience, not only looking on; they were acting,' she decides. Even she is a member of the cast. Miss Brill realizes that the reason she has a difficult time talking to her schoolchildren about what she does on the weekends is because she is on the stage. She even confides in the old man she reads to about her job as an actress: 'Yes, I have been an actress for a long time,' she says.

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