Last updated: March 18, 2019
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Summary of Katherine Mansfield’s “Miss Brill”

Katherine Mansfield’s Miss Brill is the story of an elderly woman who tried to escape the loneliness of the real world by immersing herself in a reality she had conceptualized for her own, only to painfully face it in the end.

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The story begins with the main character, Miss Brill, traveling to the public gardens as she had always had every Sunday afternoon.  She sees herself as an actress portraying a small role in a play set in the gardens which she has to fulfill knowing that if she fails to be there at the usual time seating at her usual bench, people would notice her absence and the play would not be complete.

While immersed in her thoughts, a young man and woman had taken a seat beside her on her favorite bench.  At first, she sees them as two people in love like two lead characters in a play.  She began to eavesdrop in their conversation, just like she always does when someone would share her favorite seat.  It was then that she realizes that the woman was not in love with the man.  In fact, she was turning down the advances of the young man.

Smitten by the rejection, the man loudly and angrily points out Miss Brill to the woman and demands to know if she was the reason why the woman is declining his advances stating that he nobody wants her around anyway and claims that she should stay at home instead.  At this, the young woman lets out a laugh stating that she actually found the old woman’s scarf rather entertaining and commented that it reminded her of a “fried whiting.”

At the end of the day, Miss Brill did not go to the bakery as she had always done after her visit to the gardens.  Instead, she headed straight home and retreats to her room.  She sits down for a long time and then without even looking, removed her scarf and returned it to its box.  As she did, she imagined that she could hear someone crying from within.