The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is based in Edinburgh in the years preceding World War Two and follows a group of girls known as the Brodie set, who stay together throughout their schooling under the influence of their former teacher – the provocative, intimidating, wonderful Miss Jean Brodie.

The narrative shifts throughout the story into the future, alternating between the girls as they are now and the girls in their senior years, then as women reflecting on the many eccentricities of Miss Brodie. There is a lot of foreboding, which at times is funny (as in the repetition of Rose, who would become famous for sex) and at other times sinister.

Miss Brodie is revolutionary, and the School tries for years to get her sacked. It is one of her own set that betrays her, and most of the story is told through the eyes of the girl who did it.

As they grow older, the girls start to branch off and become distinct for the things that made them famous. Monica was known for maths, Sandy for her small eyes, Eunice for sports, Mary for being a scapegoat, Jenny for her looks, and Rose, of course, was famous for sex.

The girls are the fruits of Miss Brodie’s prime. As their teacher she taught them about art and music and culture instead of arithmetic. She told them stories about her great loves, her travels, and her gripes with the School administration. She has an affair with the singing master even though she’s in love with the one-armed art teacher, Teddy Lloyd, who is obsessed with her though unfortunately married. He paints the girls individually, and as they get older, together as a set. But in every painting they look like her, transformed through his eyes into miniature Miss Brodies.

She’s an interesting character, but I found it hard to love her. I thought she exploited her relationship with the girls, moulding them into what she wanted them to be, and then living vicariously through their connection with Mr Lloyd. She used Mr Lowther for companionship and as a consolation prize, then completely disregarded his feelings by questioning the girls about Mr Lloyd right in front of him.

Miss Brodie may have been in the prime of her life as a teacher, but as a friend and role model she leaves much to be desired. Her influence on the girls bordered on possession. I do love her confidence, though. And her tenacity, passion, and individuality. She was a woman in her prime.

Even though this book is short, at times laugh-out-loud funny, and supremely well written, it left a bad taste in my mouth. It should be called The Betrayal of Miss Jean Brodie. Something about it just makes me sad.

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TITLE: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
AUTHOR(S): Muriel Spark
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
RRP: $26.00
ISBN: 9780241956779

Toni is a reader, writer, blogger, and postgraduate student living in Christchurch. When not reading she enjoys road trips and going to the movies. Her favorite books are set in space, boarding schools, the ruins of civilization, and city streets. She loves a good love story, and characters that surprise and delight. You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter.