Miss Brill


Katherine Mansfield

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on Miss Brill makes teaching easy.

Miss Brill: Genre 1 key example

Explanation and Analysis:

"Miss Brill" is an example of modernism, a literary movement that began in the late 19th century and was well-established by the time Mansfield published this story in 1920. Rejecting earlier styles of prose writing as stuffy and inauthentic, modernists strove to depict human consciousness as accurately as possible. Many modernists employed the "stream-of-consciousness" style developed by writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, which prioritizes a character's impressions and feelings, however fleeting they might be, over an orderly style of writing or a straightforward plot.

This style is evident when Miss Brill imagines that the whole crowd might burst into song at any moment:

And then she too, she too, and the others on the benches – they would come in with a kind of accompaniment – something low, that scarcely rose or fell, something so beautiful - moving ... And Miss Brill's eyes filled with tears and she looked smiling at all the other members of the company.

The stream-of-consciousness style draws the reader directly into Miss Brill's flow of thought, while also highlighting her failing effort to ignore her own loneliness and marginalization.

At a time when rapid urbanization was reshaping everyday life, and multiple world wars engulfed the globe, modernists investigated the way social trends and historical events intrude on individual lives. Using the the stream-of-consciousness technique to situate the reader close to Miss Brill, and exploring how the fragmentation and loneliness of urban life result in despair for those on the margins, this story typifies modernist style and thematic concerns.