Miss Brill

By

Katherine Mansfield

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Strangers Meeting in Public Places

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Strangers Meeting in Public Places

“Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield and “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov

By Marie-Michèle Forget

“Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield and “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov

The story “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield, a New-Zeeland author, and “The Lady with the Dog” by the Russian writer Anton Chekhov share some particularities. In fact, knowing that Katherine Mansfield was influenced by the Russian author, it is not surprising to find some similarities, especially when it comes to the themes of their creations. For our concerns here, it is important to note that both literary works rely on the same specific setting: public places and the on meeting of strangers.

“Miss Brill” is a story about a woman who is really lonely and spends all of her Sunday watching people live. She enjoys this kind of activity because she has the feeling that she is playing an important role in the life of the other characters. Unfortunately at the end of the story, a woman and a man make quite painful remarks on Miss Brill in front of her. Then, she realizes that she is lonely. The story of “The Lady with the dog” is about two characters being in an unhappy marriage and having an affair during a vacation. When they each go home, they cannot stop thinking about each other. One day, Dmitry, the married man from Moscow, goes see Anna at her hometown and he realizes that it is the first time in his life that he feels love. The author leaves us with an open ending where the two protagonists realize their romance would not last forever.

First of all, both stories use the public places as their main setting. Public places refer to the lack of intimacy because other people are next to you watching and listening. It is all about voyeurism. In Katherine Mansfield’s story, the protagonist is the one who plays the role of the voyeur, at least at the beginning of the story. Indeed, she spends every Sunday afternoon at the Jardins Publiques looking at people and making remarks about them. Miss Brill is the spectator or as she likes to think the director of this gigantic play. However, as public places stand for no intimacy, the protagonist who has been the watcher since the beginning becomes the person who is being watched. In “The Lady with the Dog,” Dmitry is the one who is looking at Anna at the beginning. Later, the public places will be a place for them to avoid or a place where they have to make sure nobody is looking when they give each other affection.

Secondly, knowing that people are being watched in public places, some of them will live another life in the public sphere than the one they have in the private one. Indeed, this is the case in both stories. As an example in “Miss Brill,” the protagonist is a woman who lives a sad loneliness in the private sphere. At the end of the story, the crying of the fur is her feelings being expressed. In the public sphere, she is quite different. She actually believes that she takes part in the play that she is looking at. The protagonist believes that she is loved by the others and that they need her in order to continue to live. In the Russian writer’s literary work, it is the same thing. In fact, for people who meet Dmitry and Anna in public places, they are for them both married people. The fact of being someone else in the public sphere is even more present because both of the principal protagonists are part of the upper class where it is a really common thing to do. However, when they are in private together, knowing nobody is watching and can judge them, those two characters have an affair together.

Thirdly, strangers’ meeting is also a theme which recurs in the two stories. When strangers meet we have to keep in mind that they know nothing about each other except for what they had seen when they interact in public places. As a matter of fact, the stranger already has an opinion on the other stranger. In the first literary work, Miss Brill seems to have an opinion on everyone who is at the Jardins Publiques and vice versa. At the end of the story, a stranger expresses the way he sees Miss Brill: “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?” (877 Pickering). So people already think something of her even though they had not talked to her. In this story, the other characters do not make an effort to learn more about Miss Brill.

As in Katherine Mansfield’s story, Dmitry and Anna in “The Lady with the Dog” already have an opinion on each other. Indeed, for Dmitry Anna is a woman like the others “whom he referred to as the lower race” (244 Pickering) and with whom he wants to have an affair. He also discovers, only by looking at her in public, things about her: “Her expression, gait, dress, coiffure, all told him that she was from the upper classes, that she was married, that she was in Yalta for the first time, alone and bored...”(245 Pickering). For him at this moment, she looks like every other woman. As the time passes, he gets to know her better and sees who she really is. Then, she becomes the most important person in his world, the one he is in love with.

Finally, both of the literary works, “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield and “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov, share public places as a setting. Moreover, those two stories are about strangers’ meeting in this particular place. As a moral for the two stories, I think this sentence would be an incredible one: Sometimes, our first impression does not do justice to the person; we have to dig deeper to discover the real personality of someone.

 


Works cited

Chekhov, Anton. “The Lady with the Dog.” Fiction 100: An Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. James H. Pickering. 12 ed. Houston: Prentice Hall, 2010. 244-55. Print.

Mansfield, Katherine. “Miss Brill.” Pickering 875-78.