The Acting Life of Miss Brill
Katherine Mansfield gives the reader (us) a brief summary of Miss Brill as an aging Englishwoman who spends the afternoon in a park located in an unnamed French vacation town watching the activities of the people around her. So I naturally wanted to figure out what was meant by “aging”. “Miss” is defined in The American Heritage College Dictionary as “1. used as a courtesy title before the surname or full name of a girl or an unmarried woman. 2. Used as a form of polite address for a girl or young woman: Thanks, miss. 3. A young unmarried woman.” “Aging: 1. The process of growing old or maturing; 2. A process for in parting the properties of age.” So I begin to read with these definitions in mind. As I begin to read I can see that she is not really young.
“The story is told from the third-person limited omniscient point of view. Mansfield allows us both to share Miss Brill’s perceptions and to recognize those perceptions are highly romanticized. This dramatic irony is essential to our understanding of her character. Miss Brill’s view of the world on this Sunday afternoon in early autumn is a delightful one, and we are invited to share in her pleasure: the day “so brilliantly fine,” the children “swooping and laughing,” the band sounding “louder and gayer”(2) then on previous Sundays. And yet, because the point of
view is the third person, we’re encouraged to look at Miss Brill herself as well as share her perceptions. What we see is a lonely woman sitting on a park bench. This dual perspective encourages us to view Miss Brill as someone who has resorted to fantasy (i.e., her romanticized perceptions) rather than self-pity (our view of her as a lonely person).” “MissBrill’s Fragile Fantasy,” by Richard Nordquist.
One could say she doesn’t see herself as old when in fact she is.
The setting of the story being in a French park leads us to want to have Miss Brill find love. Miss Brill is a static character...
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