Miss Brill Background

“Miss Brill” is a narrative published in 1920 and written by Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand author. The story was published towards the end of the author’s life while she was living in London. Mansfield’s own life was characterized by disease, indiscrimination, and turmoil; she participated in relationships with various ladies while likewise having relationships with men. Her personal life affected her writing design and the themes she chose for her narratives, and more than typically her main characters have a chaotic life.

Miss Brill, the story’s eponymous character, goes to a park where she sits at a bench and observes the people as they go by. The narrative is written in a modernist style, in which Miss Brill’s subjective (and for that reason unreliable) ideas and perspective are dominant. Miss Brill at first speaks of individuals she sees optimistically, nearly as if she shares in their lives and all of the activity and buzz that their lives seem to imply. She thinks of the passers-by as characters in a play. The story takes a more negative turn, however, when 2 other characters who sit at her bench are introduced. One makes an impolite remark about Miss Brill, and the fantastical bubble in which she obviously lives is burst for the reader; it becomes clear that far from taking part in this romanticized picture of the park visitors, Miss Brill is very much an outsider. She heads home, alone, and sits in a dark room.Major themes consist of alienation and separation from society as Miss Brill feels separated from the world around her. She recognizes herself as being an observer while those around her are heroes and heroines in the play she imagines for them. The story was first published in Athenaeum, a literary publication popular in England in the beginning of the 20th century and after that it was consisted of in her 2nd collection titled The Garden Celebration.