The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
Penguin Modern Classics, World Book Night Reprint 2011
I received a copy of this from the lovely Little Interpretations
Oof, another book that is difficult to discuss.
I am probably the last person in the world to read this, but for those who are unfamiliar with the story, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is about the unconventional teacher Miss Jean Brodie, who teaches those she considers “her girls” about her life, sexuality, art, instead of teaching the curriculum. The book follows both Jean Brodie, and her students, through most of their lives (a remarkable feat for such a short novel) and depicts their changing opinions of each other.
This book is incredibly clever and beautifully written. In its 128 pages it covers so much more than I expected. So much so that I feel that in order to truly understand the story and its themes, I should probably read it a second time. I also feel I would go from liking to loving this, on a second read, probably.
My somewhat rambly, somewhat random observations on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie:
- The flashbacks and flashforwards that intersperse the text surprised me at first, confused me too, but I got used to it as I read on. It is actually a quite clever mechanism of capturing a lot in few words.
- Are we supposed to be as captivated by Jean Brodie as her girls are? I did not enjoy her self-asserting ways, her confusion of right or wrong with her personal opinions:”Who is the greatest Italian painter?”
“Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie.”
“That is incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favourite.”
Her rebellion makes her interesting, though, and there is much humour to be found in the opinions expressed in this book.
- The development of Jean Brodie as the reader views her is actually one of the most interesting parts of the book. Alongside Sandy (one of the Brodie bunch) the reader starts to mistrust and scoff at Miss Jean Brodie more and more while reading the book. While she is sympathetic at first, and you can feel the admiration of her girls, her insistence on her own opinions, and her own goals and principles in life slowly develop her into a rather tedious and controlling creature. And although I felt sorry for what happened to Miss Brodie later in life, I do not at all wonder at why the person did what she did.
- I read this book in two manners, and I am curious to see what I think of these when I reread it: First, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie seems to paint the logical progression of childhood/teenage influence and infatuation, in its portrayal of admiration, exemplars and daydreaming of living Miss Jean Brodie’s life and memories, to a slow adaptation, appropriation, and rejection of her principles and manner of living.
- Simultaneously, I wonder if (and I’m conjecturing, because I’m still contemplating this), through the change in the reader’s sympathies towards Miss Brodie, Muriel Spark tried to discuss the influence and dangers of mass-movements surrounding totalitarian world-views. This seems to be discussed on a macro and a micro level. Frankly, Spark’s portrayal of Miss Brodie’s sympathies towards Mussolini and Hitler scared me a little, especially at first, what was she trying to say? Was Brodie’s admiration of Mussolini’s and Hitler’s “solutions” to society’s problems in fact her own? Was she simply portraying what many people in society must have felt for them pre-World War II? Having Brodie concede in later life, in the stage where the reader feels she’s quite ridiculous in some of her expressions, that “Hitler was rather naughty” to me was only part of the ways in which Brodie’s sympathy towards fascism was subverted. The comparison between girl-guides, fascism, and Jean Brodie’s influence over “her girls” seems to be telling. The moment that Sandy realises that some people think of all the girls of Jean Brodie as copies of her is a key turning point as well, I think.
- All in all, what seems to makes me want to reread this book is exactly what makes it so very clever: there are pinpricks and references to a number of large themes hidden in every section of the story, whether it be through Miss Brodie’s opinions, the life of her girls, or world-events, in flashbacks, or flashforwards, in the main story arch or seemingly insignificant details.
Other Opinions: A Literary Odyssey, Care’s Online Book Club, Steph and Tony Investigate, Vulpes Libris, Leeswammes, A Damned Conjuror Starts Lecturing, Reviews by Lola, Literate Housewife, Age 30+.. A Lifetime of Books, Jen and the Pen, Bibliographing, Booking in Heels, Novel Insights, One-Minute Book Reviews, Books Please, The Mookse and the Gripes, What Kate’s Reading, Sam Still Reading, Fifty Books Project, Lost in a Good Story, Old English Rose Reads, The Broke and the Bookish, Books 4 Breakfast, Booknotes by Lisa, Things Mean A Lot, Nose in a Book.
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