Book #76-The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is based on Spark’s own experiences at an Edinburgh school for girls where she was taught by an obviously much adored, Miss Christina Kay.  Spark infuses much of herself into the ‘Brodie set’ of six girls deemed to be the creme de la creme by their unorthodox teacher.

Set in 1930’s Edinburgh, a group of ten-year-old girls attend the fictitious Marcia Blaine School for Girls where they receive their education from the nonconforming Miss Jean Brodie.  Students become confidantes as they hear Brodie’s tales of her love life, are taken to the theatre, to tea at her home and to the squalid outskirts of town.

The novel’s namesake, Miss Jean Brodie, is much admired by her select students and by the school’s only two male teachers.  This admiration is not shared by the other female teachers and most certainly not by the school’s headmistress, Miss Mackay, whose life purpose it appears is to discredit and oust Miss Brodie.  She is devoted to her students, loved by more than one man, and eventually betrayed by one of her girls.  Somewhat haughty and self-absorbed, not my cup of  tea for a teacher and I likely would not make the grade.

Mary Macgregor is described as a silent lump and one who is blamed when things go amiss.  Certainly not bright, it is unclear why she ended up in the Brodie set.  She is quite a sad girl and is treated unkindly by the other girls as well as Miss Brodie and accepts their unfounded accusations without comment.  Her tragic end made me dislike her fellow classmates and her teacher although they had no part in it.

Sandy Stranger figures most prominently among the six students and seems to possess both the instinct and the insight Miss Brodie declares as exceptional characteristics.  While the others go about their way, Sandy does seem able to see more deeply into their subtle comments and actions.  After leaving school, she writes a book, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace and becomes sister Helena of the Transfiguration.

The one-armed Teddy Lloyd is the school’s art teacher and Brodie’s true love, however, a wife and family  keep Brodie from continuing any relationship with him.  Lloyd accepts her rejection and takes in her students, some of whom model for him.  It is Sandy who notices that all of Lloyds’ paintings, even the one of his baby, resemble Miss Brodie.  He carries on in other ways with the girls which didn’t exactly leave a good impression here.


But he will not be persuaded.  It is impossible to persuade a man who does not disagree, but smiles.

There was a wonderful sunset across the distant sky, reflected in the sea, streaked with blood and puffed with avenging purple and gold as if the end of the world had come without intruding on every-day life.

Since Ms. Spark managed to insinuate herself so completely in this book, I think I’d make the very extra effort of discussing one thing…her.  Not that she wouldn’t pose a question or two, but I believe she’d enjoy discussing all things Muriel and I wouldn’t mind hearing all about her interesting life.  I fear I’d need to foot the bill at an elegant, yet intimate restaurant, but I’d come away much the wiser.

My rating for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is an 8 out of 10.

To see the entire list, visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

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Next up, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.


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