Friday, November 24, 2006

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Author: Muriel Spark

“Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.”


“I have frequently told you, and the holidays just past have convinced me, that my prime has truly begun. One’s prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognize your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full.”

Firstly, I have to thank Kat for finding Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for me – she honestly has that magical librarian touch. After I unsuccessfully scoured Half-Priced Books for a copy this afternoon, she serendipitously happened upon one in the special “Bargain” section. I believe I responded to the find with squeals, bounces, and general glee. I don’t know how she did it. I guess it was the Secret Librarian Power.

As interesting as that little side story is, I’ll get to the real point – was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie worth all the fuss?

Hell yeah.

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at an all-girls school in 1930s Edinburgh. Carefully, she gathers around herself a group of girls whom she can “trust,” girls in whom she can confide. She tells them about her love affairs, speaks to them about the importance of truth and beauty and art, and avers that she will make them the “crème de la crème.” The girls – Sandy, Rose, Jenny, Eunice, Mary, and Monica – become known as the “Brodie set,” and they keep Miss Brodie as the center of their world long after they have moved on from her classroom. They look to her for guidance on what classes to take, what clothes to wear, what opinions to hold, and – ultimately – what affairs to conduct with men with whom Miss Brodie herself is secretly in love.

If all this sounds a little creepy to you, don’t worry, it’s supposed to be – it’s like a very twisted Dead Poet’s Society.

Miss Jean Brodie is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating characters I’ve come across in literature. In many ways, she’s a classic grotesque, so completely wrapped up in her own vision of reality that she’s incapable of seeing other people and things for what they really are. She professes to be an independent and free-thinking woman, and yet has an unabashed admiration for men like Mussolini and Hitler (remember, the story takes place before WWII). She believes that the fascisti have solved all social and economic problems in Italy, and the Brodie set marches behind her just like the Hitler youth goose-stepped through the squares of Berlin.

Sandy, on the other hand, as a member of the “Brodie set”, is a budding psychologist who sees people through her “little eyes” with uncanny accuracy. While she’s Miss Brodie’s favorite, she’s simultaneously the only one who sees her mentor’s ignorance and folly for what it really is. Oddly enough, however, it is Sandy in the end who is most trapped by the influence of Miss Brodie, the one girl from the “Brodie set” who simply cannot let go.

While hardly graphic, there’s a lot of rather dark and frustrated sexuality in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as well, which should interest those of you with an appetite for romance novels. Or maybe not, since romance novels tend to be fluffy and happy, and this book definitely doesn’t fall under either of those two adjectives…

Anyway, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a fascinating and yet incredibly short read, perfect if you have a free afternoon to lounge about the couch and feel in the mood for some intense character study. Is Miss Brodie a monster or a tragic idealist? Are the Brodie girls brainwashed, or do they benefit at in some ways from their mentor's tutelage? Is Sandy the antithesis of Miss Brodie - or just like her? All fascinating and debatable questions!

posted by Elizabeth at 10:49 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

elizabeth says i must drunk post, so here goes. why does this plot sound so familiar? a teacher living through his/her students? that's another book, right? not just dead poet's? i do not know.

also, yes, i did find the book for elizabeth, on the dollar rack, because i rock and i am a librarian. we are awesome like that. :)

11/25/2006 2:35 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Yay for drunken comment! I was so disappointed because for some reason it didn't come through my email and I didn't read it until today.

I think there are many books with similar/alike plots. Oddly enough, I can't think of any titles, however, at the moment...

Yes, you are awesome, and yes, I'm glad you had a fun night on Friday :). Long Island Iced Teas...yummy!

11/26/2006 12:50 PM  
Blogger ket said...


wish I could have been there - we'll just have to get Kat drunk again at Christmas...

Also, maybe the comment didn't send because it was posted anonymously? I didn't receive it either.

In any case, I'd like to definitively state that the above anonymous comment is from Kat.

11/26/2006 2:29 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

I don't know as Kat will be getting drunk again at Christmas, sorry. :) I still have no idea which other books/movies have that same theme. I think it was a movie, and it's really going to bother me til I think of it. haha.

11/27/2006 9:26 AM  

Post a Comment