The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Muriel Spark's most famous novel. It was first published in The New Yorker and then in novel form in 1961, is on a great many 'Top 100' lists, and contains one of the world's most famous snobs ever created.

Miss Jean Brodie is, in her own words, very much "in her prime". She's a teacher in Edinburgh and has a 'set', the best girls, "the crème de la crème": Sandy, Jenny, Rose, Mary, Monica, and Eunice, and each of them stands out for something. She teaches them what matters, not the curriculum but life - art, history, beauty, love, and fascism - and there is the rub. Her charisma and passion will be Miss Brodie's downfall: her set, her girls whose lives are determined by Miss Brodie in some way or another, and her control over them becomes an almost dark force and she is similar in a way to one of her idols Mussolini. One of them will eventually turn on her and reveal to the headmistress exactly what it is Miss Brodie is teaching and finally, after many years, the headmistress has an excuse to get rid of her. But who was it?

Despite this darkness, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is by in large a comedy, but it has the sharp edge we often see in Scottish humour. The character of Miss Brodie is perfect psychological study, despite being such a short novel (my edition was 128 pages), of a single woman post-World War I (she was "robbed" of her fiancé who died fighting): she is an enthusiastic lover without a partner, and her energy and joie de vivre is poured out into teaching her girls. But some of those impressionable ten year olds, who once worshipped her, begin to feel stifled as teenagers and young adults, and, once betrayed, Brodie is forced into a new role: she is no longer a source of inspiration, vitality, and worship or an essential part of the girls' lives, the situation is flipped and, once adults, it is she who needs the girls. Her desire was to 'produce' individual and independent young women, but what she did was try to produce women like her and who fit her ideal. In that, we see Miss Brodie's approaches as not unlike fascism. It's a strange and sad little novel, yet somehow funny. This is my second read of it, and I've no doubt I'll read it again one day.

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Further Reading

Comments

  1. I read this book, like looooong back and I remember feeling exactly what you said at the end of the reading...strange and sad! But I also remember being blown away by the character of Miss Brodie, though I did not really warm up to her and feeling very bad for her in the end, despite everything! Now I feel like revisiting the novel again! Great review!

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    1. Thank you! Miss Brodie's one of the best, most well-drawn characters in literature I think. Such a great book, this :)

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