Miss Brill

Miss Brill Study Guide

"Miss Brill" is a short story written and published in 1920 by Katherine Mansfield, a New Zealand writer. The story was published towards the end of the writer’s life while she was living in London. Mansfield's own life was characterized by illness, promiscuity, and chaos; she entered into relationships with various women while also having relationships with men. Her personal life influenced her writing style and the themes she chose for her short stories, and more than often her main characters have a chaotic life.

Miss Brill, the story's eponymous character, visits a park where she sits at a bench and observes the people as they pass by. The short story is written in a modernist style, in which Miss Brill's subjective (and therefore unreliable) thoughts and perspective are dominant. Miss Brill initially speaks of the people she sees optimistically, almost as if she shares in their lives and all of the activity and buzz that their lives seem to imply. She imagines the passersby as characters in a play. The story takes a more negative turn, however, when two other characters who sit at her bench are introduced. One makes a rude comment about Miss Brill, and the fantastical bubble in which she apparently lives is burst for the reader; it becomes clear that far from participating in this romanticized image of the park visitors, Miss Brill is very much an outsider. She heads home, alone, and sits in a dark room.

The story was first published in Athenaeum, a literary magazine popular in England at the beginning of the 20th century. It was then included in her second collection of short stories, The Garden Party (1922).