Miss Brill

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  • Topic: John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield, Miss Brill
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Miss Brill
(Katherine Mansfield 1922)

“Miss Brill,” Katherine Mansfield’s short story about a woman’s Sunday outing to a park, was published in her 1922 collection of stories entitled The Garden Party. The story’s enduring popularity is due in part to its use of a stream-of- conscious-ness narrative in which Miss Brill’s character is revealed through her thoughts about others as she watches a crowd from a park bench. Mansfield’s talent as a writer is illustrated by the fact that she at no point tells what Miss Brill is thinking about her own life, yet the story draws one of the most succinct, complete character portraits in twentieth-century short fiction. “Miss Brill” has become one of Mansfield’s most popular stories, and has been reprinted in numerous anthologies and collections. The story is typical of Mansfield’s style; she often employed stream-of-consciousness narration in order to show the psychological complexity of everyday experience in her characters’ lives. Author Biography

Katherine Mansfield was born Kathleen Mansfield Beauchamp to a wealthy family in Wellington, New Zealand, on October 14, 1888. She was educated in London, deciding early on that she wanted to be a writer. She studied music, wrote for the school newspaper, and gained her intellectual freedom by studying Oscar Wilde and the other English “decadent” writers of the early twentieth century. Three years later she returned to New Zealand, where her parents expected her to find a suitable husband and lead the life of a well-bred woman. However, Mansfield was rebellious, adventurous, and more enamored of the artistic community than of polite society. She began publishing stories in Australian magazines in 1907, and shortly thereafter returned to London. A brief affair left her pregnant and she consented to marry a man, George Bowden, whom she had known a mere three weeks and who was not the father of her child. She dressed in black for the wedding and left him before the night was over. Upon receiving word of the scandal and fueled by rumors that her daughter had also been involved with several women, Mansfield’s mother immediately sailed to London and placed her daughter in a spa in Germany, far away from the Bohemian artists’ community of London and her best friend, Ida Baker, whom Mansfield’s mother considered a bad influence. During her time in Germany, Mansfield suffered a miscarriage and was cut out of her parents’ will. After returning to London, Mansfield moved in with Baker, continuing to write and conduct various love affairs.

In 1911, Mansfield published her first volume of stories, In a German Pension, most of which had been written during her stay at the German spa. That same year she met John Middleton Murry, the editor of a literary magazine. Although they lived together on and off for many years, her other affairs continued, most notably with Baker. Together Mansfield and Murry published a small journal, The Blue Review, which folded after only three issues. However, the experience gained them entrance into the literary community of the day, and one of their newfound friends was D. H. Lawrence. In 1918, Mansfield was finally granted a divorce from Bowden, and she and Murry married. Stricken with tuberculosis in 1917, Mansfield became increasingly ill. She continued to write, publishing her two most well-known collections, Bliss and Other Stories and The Garden Party and Other Stories in 1920 and 1922 respectively. The collections received favorable critical attention, and she continued to write even after her health forced her to move to Fontainebleau. Though she was separated from Murray for long periods towards the end of her life, it was he who saw that her literary reputation was established by publishing her last stories and her collections of letters after her death in January, 1923, at the age of thirty-four.

Plot Summary

The Jardins Publiques (Public Gardens) in a French town on an early autumn Sunday afternoon...
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