Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

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When Miss Brill sets out for her usual Sunday afternoon at the Jardins Publiques (Public Gardens), she notices a slight chill in the air. It is early fall, and she decides to bring out her favorite fur stole from its box. She shakes out the moth powder, combs out its fur, shines its unseeing eyes and contemplates gluing its nose firmly in place, as it appears to be loosening. Armed against the slight chill in the air with her "little rogue," as she calls it, she sets out. Her fur stole gives her great pleasure, and she almost wishes she could have "taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked it." As she ponders her fur stole, she experiences a feeling that she will not allow herself to identify as sadness: "something gentle" in her bosom.

She reaches the Jardins Publiques, and settles herself in her "special" seat. She notes that there are many more people out than there were on the previous Sunday, and supposes that the "season" has officially begun. She also notices how the band plays so much better when there are more people around to listen to it, and how even the conductor of the band seems to be looking smarter than usual.

Miss Brill begins to take note of the people around her, as per her usual Sunday routine. There are only two other people sharing her "special" seat, a fine old man with a walking stick, and a large woman with knitting needles. She is disappointed that the two do not speak to each other, as she "had become really quite expert…at listening as though she didn't listen, at sitting in other people's lives just for a minute while they talked round her. " She recalls the couple that shared her seat the previous Sunday, how the woman had moaned incessantly to her husband about needing eyeglasses and how patient her husband had been in spite of her bad-tempered discourse.

She begins to look around her at the passers-by. She watches the poor man selling flowers, the young boys and girls playing together shyly, and the watchful mothers minding their children. Miss Brill notices then that the people sitting on the benches and chairs all had a similar quality: "They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and from the way they stared they looked as though they'd just come from dark little rooms or even-even cupboards!"

She continues to watch the people as they pass by her. She sees two girls meet their lovers and continue on their way. She sees a small child run to rescue some flowers a beautiful lady has dropped, and then she sees the beautiful lady throw them away once again, in front of the disappointed child. She sees an elderly woman in an ermine toque brushed off by a distinguished man in a gray suit. She shares the woman's annoyance for a moment and imagines that the band plays more slowly in commiseration.

It occurs to Miss Brill as the old couple sitting next to her rise to leave that they are all like actors in a play, acting on a stage, each with his or her own part to play. She reasons that if everyone around her is an actor in the play, then she too must have a small role. She rejoices in the fact that, if she did not show up faithfully each Sunday, then people would notice her absence and the play would not be complete. She suddenly understands why she feels compelled to come to the Jardins Publiques at exactly the same time every Sunday, "so as not to be late for the performance." She thinks how differently people in her everyday life might treat her if they realized that she was an "actress." She once again feels something she refuses to identify as sadness, calling it instead a desire to sing. Her eyes fill with tears as she feels again that she is part of a larger cast of actors, and that a mutual understanding bonds them, although she is not sure what it is they all understand.

A boy and girl sit down where the old couple had sat previously. They are obviously in love, and Miss Brill imagines that they are the hero and heroine of the play. She begins to listen to their conversation, as she usually does with those who share her "special" seat, only to find that they are talking about her. The girl is refusing the boy's advances, telling him that she "can't." He responds angrily, "But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there? Why does she come here at all-who wants her? Why doesn't she keep her silly old mug at home? " The girl laughingly responds that it is her fur stole that she finds to be so amusing, and compares it to "fried whiting."

At the end of Miss Brill's Sunday excursions to the Jardins Publiques, she usually treats herself to a slice of honeycake at the bakery on her way home, which she especially enjoys if there is an almond in her slice. On this particular Sunday however, she goes straight home. Her room now seems like a cupboard to her, and she sits down on the red eiderdown. She sits quietly for a long while, and then she quickly unclasps her fur stole, and without even looking at it returns it to its box, from which she had so lovingly removed it just that morning. As she puts the lid on the box, she thinks that she can hear something crying from inside.