[High School] Literary Exploration – Miss. Brill — 2 Pages

***High school***NO MLA/CITING NEEDED

show characters dealing with internal conflicts related to loneliness and restriction. For this literary exploration assignment, you will explore this theme based on the prompt given below:

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–What is your opinion of the effects of isolation on people?

You must:

  • Discuss a character from a short story.
  • Discuss another character from the same story or another story studied in this course.
  • Discuss your own personal knowledge or experience with this idea.
  • Ensure the details you select support your opinion of the effects of isolation on people.
  • Present your ideas in prose.

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Miss Brill

by Katherine Mansfield

Although it was so brilliantly fine–the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like

white wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques°– Miss Brill° was glad that she had decided on

her fur. The air was motionless, but when you opened your mouth there was just a faint chill,

like a chill from a glass of iced water before you sip, and now and again a leaf came drifting–

from nowhere, from the sky. Miss Brill put up her hand and touched her fur. Dear little thing! It

was nice to feel it again. She had taken it out of its box that afternoon, shaken out the moth-

powder, given it a good brush, and rubbed the life back into the dim little eyes. “What has been

happening to me?” said the sad little eyes. Oh, how sweet it was to see them snap at her again

from the red eiderdown!…But the nose, which was of some black composition, wasn’t at all

firm. It must have had a knock, somehow. Never mind–a little dab of black sealing-wax when

the time came–when it was absolutely necessary…Little rogue! Yes, she really felt like that

about it. Little rogue biting its tail just by her left ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on

her lap and stroked it. She felt a tingling in her hands and arms, but that came from walking,

she supposed. And when she breathed, something light and sad–no, not sad, exactly–

something gentle seemed to move in her bosom.

There were a number of people out this afternoon, far more than last Sunday. And the band

sounded louder and gayer. That was because the Season had begun. For although the band

played all the year round on Sundays, out of season it was never the same. It was like someone

playing with only the family to listen; it didn’t care how it played if there weren’t any strangers

present. Wasn’t the conductor wearing a new coat, too? She was sure it was new. He scraped

with his foot and flapped his arms like a rooster about to crow, and the bandsmen sitting in the

green rotunda blew out their cheeks and glared at the music. Now there came a little “flutey”

bit–very pretty!–a little chain of bright drops. She was sure it would be repeated. It was; she

lifted her head and smiled.

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Only two people shared her “special” seat: a fine old man in a velvet coat, his hands clasped

over a huge carved walking-stick, and a big old woman, sitting upright, with a roll of knitting on

her embroidered apron. They did not speak. This was disappointing, for Miss Brill always looked

forward to the conversation. She had become really quite expert, she thought, 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 glanced, sideways, at the old couple. Perhaps they would go soon. Last Sunday, too, hadn’t

been as interesting as usual. An Englishman and his wife, he wearing a dreadful Panama hat and

she button boots. And she’d gone on the whole time about how she ought to wear spectacles;

°Jardins Publiques: public gardens or park. The setting of the story is apparently a French seaside town.

°Miss Brill: Brill is the name of a common deep-sea flatfish.

she knew she needed them; but that it was no good getting any; they’d be sure to break and

they’d never keep on. And he’d been so patient. He’d suggested everything–gold rims, the kind

that curved round your ears, little pads inside the bridge. No, nothing would please her. “They’ll

always be sliding down my nose!” Miss Brill had wanted to shake her.

The old people sat on the bench, still as statues. Never mind, there was always the crowd to

watch. To and fro, in front of the flower-beds and the band rotunda, the couples and groups

paraded, stopped to talk, to greet, to buy a handful of flowers from the old beggar who had his

tray fixed to the railings. Little children ran among them, swooping and laughing; little boys

with big white silk bows under their chins, little girls, little French dolls, dressed up in velvet and

lace. And sometimes a tiny staggerer came suddenly rocking into the open from under the

trees, stopped, stared, as suddenly sat down “flop,” until its small high-stepping mother, like a

young hen, rushed scolding to its rescue. Other people sat on the benches and green chairs, but

they were nearly always the same, Sunday after Sunday, and–Miss Brill had often noticed–

there was something funny about nearly all of them. They were odd, silent, nearly all old, and

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from the way they stared they looked as though they’d just come from dark little rooms or

even–even cupboards! isn’t

Behind the rotunda the slender trees with yellow leaves down drooping, and through them just

a line of sea, and beyond the blue sky with gold-veined clouds.

Tum-tum-tum tiddle-um! tiddle-um! tum tiddley-um tum ta! blew the band.

Two young girls in red came by and two young soldiers in blue met them, and they laughed and

paired and went off arm-in-arm. Two peasant women with funny straw hats passed, gravely,

leading beautiful smoke-coloured donkeys. A cold, pale nun hurried by. A beautiful woman

came along and dropped her bunch of violets, and a little boy ran after to hand them to her,

and she took them and threw them away as if they’d been poisoned. Dear me! Miss Brill didn’t

know whether to admire that or not! And now an ermine toque° and a gentleman in grey met

just in front of her. He was tall, stiff, dignified, and she was wearing the ermine toque she’d

bought when her hair was yellow. Now everything, her hair, her face, even her eyes, was the

same colour as the shabby ermine, and her hand, in its cleaned glove, lifted to dab her lips, was

a tiny yellowish paw. Oh, she was so pleased to see him–delighted! She rather thought they

were going to meet that afternoon. She described where she’d been–everywhere, here, there,

along by the sea. The day was so charming–didn’t he agree? And wouldn’t he, perhaps?…But

he shook his head, lighted a cigarette, slowly breathed a great deep puff into her face, and even

while she was still talking and laughing, flicked the match away and walked on. The ermine

toque was alone; she smiled more brightly than ever. But even the band seemed to know what

she was feeling and played more softly, played tenderly, and the drum beat, “The Brute! The

°ermine toque: close-fitting hat made of the white fur of an ermine; here the phrase stands for the woman

wearing the hat.

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Brute!” over and over. What would she do? What was going to happen now? But as Miss Brill

wondered, the ermine toque turned, raised her hand as though she’d seen some one else,

much nicer, just over there, and pattered away. And the band changed again and played more

quickly, more gaily than ever, and the old couple on Miss Brill’s seat got up and marched away,

and such a funny old man with long whiskers hobbled along in time to the music and was nearly

knocked over by four girls walking abreast.

Oh, how fascinating it was! How she enjoyed it! How she loved sitting here, watching it all! It

was like a play. It was exactly like a play. Who could believe the sky at the back wasn’t painted?

But it wasn’t till a little brown dog trotted on solemn and then slowly trotted off, like a little

“theatre” dog, a little dog that had been drugged, that Miss Brill discovered what it was that

made it so exciting. They were all on the stage. They weren’t only the audience, not only

looking on; they were acting. Even she had a part and came every Sunday. No doubt somebody

would have noticed if she hadn’t been there; she was part of the performance after all. How

strange she’d never thought of it like that before! And yet it explained why she made such a

point of starting from home at just the same time each week–so as not to be late for the

performance–and it also explained why she had quite a queer, shy feeling at telling her English

pupils how she spent her Sunday afternoons. No wonder! Miss Brill nearly laughed out loud.

She was on the stage. She thought of the old invalid gentleman to whom she read the

newspaper four afternoons a week while he slept in the garden. She had got quite used to the

frail head on the cotton pillow, the hollowed eyes, the open mouth and the high pinched nose.

If he’d been dead she mightn’t have noticed for weeks; she wouldn’t have minded. But

suddenly he knew he was having the paper read to him by an actress! “An actress!” The old

head lifted; two points of light quivered in the old eyes. “An actress–are ye?” And Miss Brill

smoothed the newspaper as though it were the manuscript of her part and said gently; “Yes, I

have been an actress for a long time.”

The band had been having a rest. Now they started again. And what they played was warm,

sunny, yet there was just a faint chill–a something, what was it?–not sadness–no, not sadness-

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-a something that made you want to sing. The tune lifted, lifted, the light shone; and it seemed

to Miss Brill that in another moment all of them, all the whole company, would begin singing.

The young ones, the laughing ones who were moving together, they would begin, and the

men’s voices, very resolute and brave, would join them. 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. Yes, we understand, we

understand, she thought–though what they understood she didn’t know.

Just at that moment a boy and girl came and sat down where the old couple had been. They

were beautifully dressed; they were in love. The hero and heroine, of course, just arrived from

his father’s yacht. And still soundlessly singing, still with that trembling smile, Miss Brill

prepared to listen.

“No, not now,” said the girl. “Not here, I can’t.”

“But why? Because of that stupid old thing at the end there?” asked the boy. “Why does she

come here at all–who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?”

“It’s her fu-ur which is so funny,” giggled the girl. “It’s exactly like a fried whiting.”

“Ah, be off with you!” said the boy in an angry whisper. Then: “Tell me, ma petite chérie–”

“No, not here,” said the girl. “Not yet.”

… On her way home she usually bought a slice of honey-cake at the baker’s. It was her Sunday

treat. Sometimes there was an almond in her slice, sometimes not. It made a great difference. If

there was an almond it was like carrying home a tiny present–a surprise–something that might

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very well not have been there. She hurried on the almond Sundays and struck the match for the

kettle in quite a dashing way.

But to-day she passed the baker’s by, climbed the stairs, went into the little dark room–her

room like a cupboard–and sat down on the red eiderdown. She sat there for a long time. The

box that the fur came out of was on the bed. She unclasped the necklet quickly; quickly,

without looking, laid it inside. But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something

crying.

©Public Domain

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