The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

First Edition Cover

Miss Jean Brodie, is everything that you may want as a teacher when you are a young impressionable ten year old in the  last two years of junior school. You want to be able to learn outside under trees and still maintain the childlike quality of playing  at everything. You want to hear fantastical tales of love and adventure. Maths and Science are something which come later and will only get in the way of the art, the romance (and sex) and even revenge.

This is the mid nineteen thirties and Miss Jean Brodie has gathered a set of girls to become known as the Brodie set. These six girls, Sandy, Jenny, Mary, Eunice, Monica and Rose are all different but they all become the same under Brodie’s watchful eye.”Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.”  as she famously says in the novel. She has plans for them all though they may not realise that themselves. Everything does not necessarily go the way it should, and the book uncovers as we go along, what happens to each of the girls and exactly the prime role Miss Jean Brodie had in their lives.

The group have a fascination with romance and sex, this is very much a strong theme throughout the book. That inquiring mind sort about how it all works and goes where. When they see Miss Jean Brodie embracing the art teacher and spending time fattening up the music teacher they become rather confused as to what Miss Jean Brodie is doing and in some ways Miss Jean Brodie becomes confused herself. Miss Jean Brodie’s schemes come home to roost and she manipulates the girls too far, only one she can trust, but is it the right girl? Will the girls have their revenge by simply leading completely different lives and never be in their ‘prime’ as Miss Jean Brodie was.

The ever presence of Miss Mackay, the headmistress seems to have a campaign to get rid of Miss Jean Brodie to a ‘crank’ school or more forward thinking one than the one she is in charge of. She tries to lull the girls into giving enough away to act upon, but they are wise to her methods and she seems to fail at every turn.

Miss Jean Brodie, is character with some brave elements (radical education techniques, being interested in Fascism) but actually a rather lonely character who seems to be living her life through the young charges she specifically takes under her wing. The fictitious imaginative story that Sandy and Jenny cultivate gives real example to the fantasy that she must have been feeding these girls – out to impress perhaps?

What I loved about this book, was the way the six girls were referred to throughout, so you did not lose at any point who the author was talking about. I admit though, the flitting backwards and forwards about what happens to the girls in the future and what was happening to them at the present did take a while to get into but once you are fully immersed you take it all in your stride and follow this wonderful short tale of a lady living her life vicariously through six particular girls.

I would read it again and again. It has much to tell the reader about the time and perhaps about educating young people more than we realise. In this particular edition do read the introduction (after reading the book) because it will give you a much more enriching experience of it.

Gosh this is really a difficult book to review. There is so much to say and to do so would give the whole book away. I wonder if that has something to do with it being a short novel. 

I really did not like Miss Jean Brodie, she was rather a bully who seemed to be almost brainwashing these young girls, granted not into anything dangerous but still I felt she failed these girls and in some way herself. 

This was January’s choice for my book club. I know some of the group are struggling. It will be interesting to hear what they all think.