This novella was written by Muriel Spark, an author who was born and raised in Edinburgh where the novel is set. It was such a pleasure reading about the streets of a city so central to my childhood. It was refreshing to read a (modern) classic novel that does not try to take itself too seriously or be too philosophical. Everything about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is ridiculous to me and yet I really enjoyed reading it.
The elegantly styled classic story of a young, unorthodox teacher and her special – and ultimately dangerous – relationship with six of her students.
First of all I’m going to say it would be almost impossible for me to explain what this novel is about without giving spoilers so the plot may seem a little vague as a result. The novel basically centres around a group of young girls who are ‘taught’ by Jean Brodie albeit unconventionally as their lessons are mainly pretending to do lessons while listening to her stories and opinions.
I think what made this novel enjoyable was how real all of its characters seem, Miss Jean Brodie in particular. Miss Jean Brodie ‘claims’ the girls she teaches saying “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.” She sculpts them, perhaps due to her love of art, to meet her needs. In this way the novella is very unsettling. This, at first, contrasts with the innocence of ‘The Brodie Set’ the collective name given to the girls that Miss Brodie takes under her broken wing.
Due to the various time settings of the novels we watch The Brodie Set grow and mature, first not fully understanding the world of sex and giggling at any sexual connotations, they want to please,”anxious to be of cultured and sexless antecedents.” We as readers, learn of their innocence due to a series of beautifully written and realistic discussions they have amongst themselves….
“Miss Brodie says prime is best” Sandy said.
“Yes but she never got married like our mothers and fathers.”
“They don’t have primes,” said Sandy
“They have sexual intercourse,” Jenny said
The little girls paused, because this was a stupendous thought, and one they had only lately lit upon; the very phrase and its meaning were new. It was quite unbelievable. Sandy said, then, “Mr Lloyd had a baby last week. He must have committed sex with his wife”
Committed! Honestly, I love this book so much. In my opinion it is very well written which may be a result of my love for literature of the 1960s or may mean I love Muriel Spark. I am more than willing to read more of her work and test the theory. I am also overjoyed I found a new Scottish novel I love so early on in the reading year.
Throughout the novel The Brodie Set mature and find their ‘fame.’ Similarly to the way they each wear their school hat, they all have their own reputations as well, despite the fact they are never seen as individuals. There is added drama and betrayal, Spark’s novella is much much more than it seems. Themes of the novella include innocence, power, religion, theology, education, war and cruelty, to name but a few. And yet its genius lies in its execution. Will I watch the Maggie Smith adaptation? probably not…I doubt it has aged as well.