Read below our complete notes on the short story “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield. Our notes cover Miss Brill summary, themes, characters, and analysis.


Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923) is New Zealand’s famous short fiction writer and a poet. The short story name, Miss Brill is written by her. At first, it was published in Athenaeum on 26th November 1920. Later on, it was reprinted in The Garden Party and Other Stories.

This story highlights the glimpses of the aftermath of the First World War. The mayhem created by the war in the French regarding progress and industrialization. People were more inclined towards the wrong concept of progress such as drinking, extravagant dressing, dancing and partying. This story was written in a period where women’s social importance was limited to marrying and bearing children. Spinsters, in particular, were considered useless members of society. Miss.Brill in the story depicts such issues of women as she is also a spinster.

Miss Brill Summary

Katherine Mansfield’s Miss Brill is a short story of a lonesome and an unmarried aged woman. She lives near Jardin Publiques in French town. She makes ends meet by tutoring children and reading newspapers for an old man. Miss Brill usually copes with her loneliness by spending her Sundays strolling in a park or garden.

At the beginning of the story, Miss Brill is looking forward to spending her Sunday strolling in the Jardin Publiques. For which she wants to wear her beloved shabby fur coat. She tries to clean and brush it properly, so it could look good. The music and the appealing beauty of the park fascinates her. She has the habit of discerning things and people deeply. In the park she listens to the conversation of people without their knowing. She sits on her “special seat” quietly. She is more focused towards eavesdropping on people as compared to the band music.

 At first, an old couple sits right next to her silently. They strike her uninteresting, on the ground that they do not speak. At that time, she is also reminded by the thoughts of a whining wife and an old English man on her previous Sunday meeting.

 After that, she shifts her attention towards the people. While this, she observes some pesky kids, an old beggar who is selling flowers and a group of two girls and two soldiers. She seems captivating by all the things playing out before her.

Suddenly, Miss Brill witnesses a girl in ermine toque who approaches a man dressed in grey. They did a small talk for a while. In her mind she builds up thoughts for that pair. However, the man seems rude to Miss Brill when he blows his cigarette’s smoke on that girl’s face. While the girl with a shabby hat hides her humiliation by responding with a smile. On witnessing this, Miss Brill feels uncomfortable. Therefore, she turns her attention towards other things.

The seats previously occupied by an old couple are now filled by a young couple. Miss. Brill thinks of them as a hero and heroine in her imagination while observing them. She tries to eavesdrop on them. However, the young couple disrespects Miss Brill. They make fun of her appearance and age and why is she present in the park. They rebuke her by calling Miss.Brill a stupid old thing.

In response, Miss Brill leaves and does not stop by the bakery to buy a slice of honey cake. As she arrives home, she doffs her fur coat and puts it back into the box.

Themes in Miss Brill

Loneliness and Dissociation

Miss Brill is an unmarried, aged and lonely woman. She has a routine of spending her Sundays at a park to overcome her loneliness. She has an urge to participate in the outer world for which she visits the park every Sunday.

Although, she does not have any direct interaction or communication with the outer world. Rather, she sits there quietly and discerns the activities of people. She listens to their conversations and arguments. In this way, she considers herself a part of the community.

However, readers can see the attitude of the people around her. Her loneliness is evident from her fur coat. Sitting in the middle of people she only talks to her fur coat. No one seems to be talking to her. A young couple approaches and mocks her presence and says that she is not wanted here. Nobody is expecting her to be here at all. They mock her appearance as well by calling her “a stupid old thing” . This rebuke contradicts all her previous thoughts. She feels more vulnerable, lonely and dejected.

Youth and Old age

Miss Brill’s fur coat is the representation of her nostalgia for youth. While sitting in the park she admires the young people. However, she represents a negative view about the old people and says, “odd, silent, nearly all old”. She thinks that old people are those creatures that are marginalized and subjugated. This view is evident when she overhears the conversation of a young couple. They make fun of her by calling her “fried whiting – a cooked fish”.

Reality and Delusion

The story is an amalgamation of delusion and reality. Readers can find her being delusional in the text. Miss Brill talking to her fur coat is a delusional moment. She thinks that her coat is still new and good.

Similarly, the way she thinks about her place in the community. Miss Brill is of the opinion that everyone in the park is like a performer on the stage. Hence, everyone is connected to one another in some ways. In the same way, she considers herself a part of that performance.

Whereas, Miss Brill seems to come out of that delusion by the rapprochement of the young couple. They talk about her unwanted presence and shabby fur coat. They dismiss her views about being connected with others. However, in the end she also realizes that her fur coat is old and shabby.

Miss Brill Characters Analysis

Miss Brill

Miss Brill is the protagonist of the story. She is an unmarried, aged and lonely woman, living in the town of France. She makes her living from tutoring children and reading newspapers for an old man. She is the kind of woman who is deprived of social connections. There is a void created in her life.

In the story, she is portrayed as self-deluded about her importance as a member of society. Throughout the story, readers can see the fur coat as her most beloved possession. This fur coat represents her alienation and marginalization. At the end of the story, one can see how her self-delusion is broken by the harsh reality when a young couple insults her. They say that  she is not wanted here. Nobody is expecting her to be here at all.

The Old man and Woman

They are the well-dressed old couple who sits next to Miss Brill in the park. They seem uninteresting to Miss Brill as they do not communicate. Though, she observes their dressing.

A Girl wearing an Ermine toque and a Gentleman in grey

Miss Brill sees a girl wearing an ermine toque. This girl approaches a gentleman who looks wealthy by appearance. Both of them get engaged in small talk for a while. However, the gentleman strikes rude to Miss Brill for he blows cigarette smoke on that girl’s face. At that time, she felt pitiful for that girl.

Young boy and girl

They are the two adults. They appear at the end of the story. Miss Brill is criticized by these young adults. They call her “a stupid old thing” and also make fun of her coat.

Miss Brill Analysis

Miss Brill” is a short story written by Katherine Mansfield. It revolves around an unmarried aged and lonely woman living near Jardin Publiques in French town.. Miss Brill is a spinster and makes her living by tutoring children and reading newspapers to an old man. She has a routine of spending her Sundays at the Jardin Publiques to fill a void created in her life.

Setting of the story

The location of the story is set in France at Jardin Publiques in early spring and in Miss Brill’s home as well. Mansfield has set the time setting in the 1990s. 


Katherine, through the character of Miss Brill, exposes the harsh reality of society. Mansfield uses “Fur Coat”  as a symbol of marginalization for Miss Brill. At first, it was removed from the box “Miss.Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It was so nice to feel it again”. Whereas, in the end, it is again put into that box. Through this, she depicts the attitude of society towards Miss Brill. She lets herself out of that box like that coat. Whereas, the cruel society once again put her into that dark place.She removed the lid from the box and placed it inside. After  that, she puts the lid on the box. In order to express her feelings Mansfield personifies the coat with “crying”. Through this she highlights her subjugation and behavior of people.

Similarly, readers can find Mansfield with the view of the mistreatment of poor people within a society. Particularly, when Miss Brill is criticized by the young couple for her presence and appearance that she is not wanted here. Nobody is expecting her to be here at all

Although, at some points, Miss Brill seems optimistic and imaginative. She thinks that everyone is connected to one another like the actors on the stage “They were all on the stage”. They weren’t only the audience, not only looking on; they were acting“. Likewise, her self-delusion becomes obvious when she thinks of herself as a part of this performance “Even she had a part and came every Sunday”.


Moreover, the incredible imagery is set for the representation of Miss Brill’s youth and old age. Particularly, when Miss Brill compares the young girl waning countenance of her face with her shabby hat “her face, even her eyes, was the same colour as the shabby ermine”.Through that Mansfield deploys that how with time she has grown old.

As well as, Mansfield depicts the decaying of society by employing the imagery of autumn “Behind the rotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down drooping”. It is evident people were living an absurd life with a disrupted social setup. They were more focused on gaining wealth, partying and extravagant dressing.

Moreover, implicitly in the text, Mansfield also highlights the erosion of moral values. A boy and a girl approach Miss Brill and open up an argument which sounds sexual. Boy seemed to be asking something while the girl kept refusing.  Boy thought that maybe Miss Brill’s unwanted presence is the reason behind refusal. 

In addition, Mansfield exhibits the society’s mark of utmost importance as clothes. This is shown through the character of Miss Brill when she identifies everyone from their dressing.

Furthermore, Mansfield also provides the issues of females. Society’s treatment towards a spinster is shown through the character of Miss Brill. She is looked down upon by society because women’s social importance was only to marry and have children. So spinsters were considered useless members during that time.

Tone of the story

Beginning of the story is set in an optimistic, whimsical and blithe tone. Whereas, in the end, the tone of the story completely changes into a detached tone.  Particularly, when Miss Brill’s assumptions about society proves wrong.

Literary devices

There are certain literary devices such as metaphors, similes, personification in the story.  Readers can find the combination of metaphors with similes in the beginning of the story. Miss Brill exhibits the sky with powdered golden colors “sky powdered with gold”. Also, she compares the sun rays with the color of wine set with the help of simile “spots of light like white wine”.

Throughout the story, readers can find personifications of fur coat for instance “Little rogue,” its eyes “snap at her,”. In addition, another comparison is also drawn with the help of simile. A young girl, who proved Miss Brill assumptions wrong by her cruel comments “like a fried whiting”.  Moreover, metonymy has also used when Miss Brill refers to the girl wearing ermine torque. Readers can see Miss Brill using “Ermine toque”  (item of cloth) as a substitute for a woman.

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