Miss Brill

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Miss Brill Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Katherine Mansfield's Miss Brill. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield was born in New Zealand to a socially prominent family and moved to England at the age of 19 to attend University, in her case Queen’s College. Though originally thinking she would be a cellist, she contributed to the school newspaper, eventually becoming its editor, and began writing fiction seriously in 1906, shortly after returning to New Zealand following a tour of continental Europe. She quickly grew tired of the provincialism of New Zealand, however, and returned to London in 1908. Her most famous work, a collection of short stories called The Garden Party – which includes “Miss Brill” – was published just one year before she died of tuberculosis in 1923.
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Historical Context of Miss Brill
“Miss Brill” takes place after the First World War in France. The ravages of the war had turned to a growing prosperity, as reflected by the boisterous band. But the toll had been heavy, and though the story brims with new love and young children, the older people in the story seem fatigued, possibly partially because of the difficult effects of the war.
Other Books Related to Miss Brill
The novels of the Russian Fyodor Dostoevsky, the English D. H. Lawrence, and especially the short stories of the Russian Anton Chekhov influenced Mansfield greatly. These writers all worked in the realist mode, which, while trying to portray the world as it is, also particularly values the idea that plot should arise from situation and character. The short, realistic, and lyrical short stories of the Irishman James Joyce in his 1914 volume Dubliners was probably also an influence, though Mansfield did not believe his work reached greatness.
Key Facts about Miss Brill
  • Full Title: Miss Brill
  • When Written: 1920
  • Where Written: France
  • When Published: November 26, 1920
  • Literary Period: Realism, modernism
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: Unspecified town, Jardins Publique, France
  • Climax: A boy calls Miss Brill a “fried whiting”
  • Antagonist: The boy and girl, or society at large
  • Point of View: Third-person limited (Miss Brill)
Extra Credit for Miss Brill

Her own editor. Katherine Mansfield was an editor of the magazine in which “Miss Brill” story was first published, The Athenaeum.

New Zealand, with an emphasis on new. Katherine Mansfield called her place of birth, New Zealand, “a little land with no history.”