The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark was first published in 1961. It’s one of those books which I seem always to have known about, there have been a few TV dramatisations of it and of course a film starring Maggie Smith and Gordon Jackson. For that reason I was never in a rush to read the book although I have read a lot of Spark’s other books. In fact I think that for a long time I thought I had already read it. For a lot of people this one seems to be their favourite but my favourite is still The Girls of Slender Means, which nobody else seems to rate!

The setting is of course Edinburgh where Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, obviously a rather posh fee-paying establishment. She isn’t keen to stick to the curriculum, preferring to teach her own form of ‘education’ giving her own views on politics and art rather than teaching the arithmetic which will be necessary to get the girls through their exams. The school authorities are not happy about Brodie’s attitude and are looking for a way to get rid of her.

I wasn’t keen on the way this book was written, I don’t like it when an author ‘gives away’ the future fate of characters, jumping ahead to something which happens years in the future, and the repetition annoyed me too. How many times did we have to be told that Rose Stanley was famous for sex? It’s the sort of writing which was more usually used in poetry or song writing where you expect the same refrains to be repeated. But I don’t happen to be a fan of poetry.

It is however a very Scottish or maybe more correctly an Edinburgh book, very Calvinistic and split personality-ish, light and dark. Nothing is as it seems.

What I was thinking about when Miss Brodie was gathering her wee coterie of acolytes about her – her ‘creme de la creme’ was: What were the other girls in the class thinking? The ones deemed not to be special enough to be one of the chosen. I have in fact witnessed something very similar in the past, amongst grown women can you believe it? all fluttering around their goddess. I know that I was just observing and thinking to myself – what a bunch of embarrassing idiots. So the likelihood is that one of the girls, or all of them who were not in the Brodie set, would have spiked the Brodie guns many years before and complained to the headmistress about her via their parents. But that’s me over-thinking a book – as usual, because obviously if that did happen, there would have been no book.

I read this for the Read Scotland 2014 challenge which is thankfully being carried on into 2015. I haven’t read any Scottish non fiction at all this year as far as I can remember and I must rectify that soon.

4 thoughts on “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

  1. This is the only Muriel Spark book I’ve read. I liked it but it’s not one that I feel moved to comment on much one way or the other. I’d never seen any adaptations of it, so I did not know much of the plot except for the charismatic teacher thing. I remember we had some charismatic teachers in my middle school, a 5th grade / 6th grade team teaching pair that it seemed that some parents were jockeying to get their kids in that classroom. It seemed that the kids assigned to that teaching team were often those of the “pillars of the community” in our very small town. But it was a public school, so there were limits to developing some sort of inner circle.

    • Christy,
      I think you always get parents like that who somehow think that their children are more important than any others and teachers who suck up to the better off parents. It certainly happened in the local primary school which my sons attended. I just preferred teachers who actually taught well, charisma I can definitely do without as it seems completely false and dangerous to me – as do “pillars of the community”.

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