Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

I saw the movie based on this book around 10 years ago and while it’s started to get fuzzy in my mind, I have fond feelings. Also, being a single woman of a certain age (shall we say, just getting to my prime?) I was already inclined to like this book. And I loved it. Yes, it is very short (which never hurts in my opinion!) but that’s because not a word is wasted, not a glance, an adjective, or a hint. Ms. Spark is a true master.

For those of you unfamiliar, Miss Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland, and in the 1930s there is a group of girls that come through her classes that are tight-knit and particularly doted on my Miss Brodie. Though they go on to high school Miss Brodie continues to have an everpresent influence on their daily lives, with her passion for arts and culture, disdain for the pedestrian and conservative, even going so far as admiring Mussolini (mostly for the regularity and straightness of his soldiers, which were truly excellent.) We learn what happens to each of the “Brodie set” through flash-forwards as Miss Brodie tries to find out which of them has betrayed her. Finding out who (and how and why) is the heart of the story.

While this mystery might make the book sound melancholy or dark, it is in fact hilarious. I frequently laughed out loud. My favorite line was: “And above all, Miss Brodie was easily the equal of both sisters together, she was the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle and they were only the squares on the other two sides” (92). Having gone to an overachieving high school myself, and being overly educated, I strongly identified with these girls, but now I also identify with their teacher, which I know wasn’t true when I saw the movie in my 20s. I understood better now her battle with the headmistress to save her job and how political and petty those fights can become. I understood her desperation, her loneliness, her justifications for how her life has turned out. When Sandy and Jenny noticed that Miss Brodie’s stories about her deceased fiancée were changing to accommodate her current interests and beliefs, that was particularly astute and made me ponder that mental trick in my own life. How often do we mentally revise the past to make it fit the present?

Second favorite funny passage, which I am going to close with as it is also so telling about the kind of person Miss Brodie is, or thinks she is: “I am a descendant, do not forget, of Willie Brodie…. Eventually he was a wanted man for having robbed the Excise Office – not that he needed the money, he was a night burglar only for the sake of the danger in it. Of course he was arrested abroad and was brought back to the Tolbooth prison but that was mere chance. He died cheerfully on a gibbet of his own devising in seventeen-eighty-eight. However all this may be, it is the stuff I am made of, and I have brooked and shall brook no nonsense from Miss Ellen and Miss Alison Kerr.”

By the end, one girl will have had an affair with a teacher, one will have betrayed Miss Brodie, one will have died, and one will have become a nun. Meanwhile, you’re in for a very fun ride!

1 comment:

Loraine said...

That was a nice review! Here's mine if you don't mind: http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-prime-of-miss-jean-brodie-by-muriel.html

Thanks and have a nice day! :D