In ‘Miss Brill’, Katherine Mansfield introduces us to an apparently simpleminded
woman who eavesdrops on strangers, who imagines herself to be an actress in some kind
of absurd musical, and who’s only friend in life seems to be a shabby fur stole. We are
encouraged neither to laugh at her, nor to dismiss her as a madwoman. Yet, Miss Brill
comes across as a convincing character who we sympathize with.
By telling the story from a third person point of view, Mansfield allows us to both share Miss Brill’s perceptions and to recognize those perceptions are mostly fantasy. Miss Brill’s view of the world on this Sunday afternoon in early autumn is a good
One, and we are encouraged to share her pleasure! The day “so brilliantly fine,” the children“swooping and laughing,” the band sounding “louder and gayer,” than on previous days.We are also encouraged to look at Miss Brill as a person as well as her perceptions. This dual perspective encourages us to view Miss Brill as someone who has resorted to fantasy rather than self pity.
Miss Brill reveals herself to us through her perceptions of other people in the park, the other characters in her production. Since she really does not know them, she characterizes the people by the clothes they wear, for example,” a fine old man in a velvet coat,” an Englishman” wearing a dreadful panama hat,” “little boys with big white silk bows under their chins” She observes what everyone is wearing as if she is a wardrobe designer for a production. She thinks they are performing for her benefit, even though to us it appears they are oblivious to her existence. Some are not very appealing: the silent couple beside her on the bench, the vain woman who chatters about the spectacles she should be wearing, the “beautiful” woman who throws away a bunch of violets “as if they had been poisoned,” and the four girls who nearly knock over the old man. She is annoyed by some, sympathetic towards others, but she reacts to...
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