Monday, April 20, 2015

Muriel Spark - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Published by Macmillan
Bought @

Muriel Spark never disappoints. Her novels always have beguiling  content and a depth.  We are taken on a roller coaster ride through the minds of her characters.  I took some time to finish this book, not because I found it difficult, but because I did not want it to end.  Half way through the book, switching from reading it on my desktop's mobi-reader to my kindle reader, I found myself repeating several chapters.  Rather than skipping the portion I had already read, I elected to savor them again.

Miss Jean Brodie teaches at the junior section of Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh. As the book opens, she has taken six girls under her wing.  The girls are ten years old at the time. They are, Monica Douglas, Rose Stanley, Eunice Gardiner, Sandy Stranger, Jenny Gray and Mary MacGregor. These girls are, as Miss Brodie describes them, crème de la crème.  They spend time with Miss Brodie, get to hear all about her life, and get special instruction from her. Miss Brodie is bent upon influencing the girls with her thoughts.

How these interactions and the subsequent happenings affect the lives of the girls, is what the book is all about.  The chief plot of the novel is the mystery surrounding the identity of the girl who betrayed Miss Jean Brodie to the headmistress, leading to her removal from the school.  Apart from that the novel follows the happenings at the school, the love life of Miss Jean Brodie and the development of the six girls from callow young things to mature women leading their lives.

The story begins during the 1930s when the girls are still in the junior school and ends at various stages of the girls' life.  It was an interesting time, with the rise of the fascists and Nazis in Europe and war hovering in the horizon.  Feminism was rearing its head. Modern thinking was being ushered in.  Miss Jean Brodie brings new ideas into the lives of the girls and they are left to make of them what they must.  The book takes a deep look at how teachers and education influence the lives of pupils.  The Brodie set, as the six girls are known, never shake off the influence of Miss Brodie on their minds.

The story moves forward and backward in time.  We know right away that Miss Jean Brodie was betrayed by one of her set to the headmistress, but other details of the event are not revealed till the end.  We know that Miss Jean Brodie had an affair with the singing master, Gordon Lowther, and that Mr. Teddy Lloyd was the love of her life.  But we find out how consequences of the affairs much later. This forward and backward technique keeps us supplied with tantalising bits of information, and keeps us turning the pages.

The book brings out the complexities of life itself.  On one level Miss Jean Brodie is an intelligent teacher, on another level, she is just a woman looking for love and companionship.

The book is beautifully written.  The thinking patterns of the girls change as they grow up from ages 10 to 18 in the school, and later, as adults.

I am a fan of Muriel Spark.  So far, I have read The girls of slender means, The Public Image, The ballad of Pekham Rye. I have loved them all, and intend to re-read and review them here.

This book was made into a movie starring the now famous Dowager of Downton Abbey - Maggie Smith - as Jean Brodie.


Madhulika Liddle said...

I have to admit I've never read Muriel Spark yet, though I have heard a lot about her - and have heard praise for this book, though I didn't know what it was about. Sounds like something I need to get my hands on ASAP.

But when do I get the time? I have literally hundreds of books lined up to read!!

Ava Suri said...

Bit by bit. I try to spare at least an hour in the evening. Sometimes in the morning. Then there are the weekends, if I do not have a chore.

Matthew Selwyn said...

I haven't seen the film yet but I can so imagine Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie. Perfect. I'm pretty new to Muriel Spark, what would you recommend I read after this from the others you've read?

My review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Ava Suri said...

Pretty much anything of hers you can lay your hands on, Matthew! I have not come across a single novella or a novel of hers that I have not liked.

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