0219 | The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark


Context: finished this off over a bowl of Weetabix at our friends’ house in High Wycombe.

I was round at a friend’s house this weekend and, in the hallway, they’ve got shelves of books. This was the same friend who lent me the amazing autobiography of Brian Keenan’s years of captivity in Lebanon. Since reading that, I reckoned that pretty much anything off her shelves is worthwhile. I saw this on the Friday evening and, as it’s off the 1001 list, nabbed it and had it finished by Sunday morning. Miss Jean Brodie is one classic character.

The story takes place in the gap between first and second world wars at a girls’ school in Edinburgh. There, the unorthodox teaching methods of Miss Jean Brodie come under fire from the headmistress, Miss Mackay.

Brodie builds around her a set of girls who, initially, hang on her every word. Miss Brodie, you see, is in her self-proclaimed prime and, thus, all the girls have to do is follow her lead and they will become the creme-de-la-creme.

As the girls grow up, their relationships with and perspective on the figurehead Brodie change. That Spark achieves this portrayal of so many strong characters in a mere 127 pages shows her phenomenal skills as a writer. And the story is engaging throughout; she doesn’t waste a page.

I won’t spoil the ending for you. Safe to say that she is well past her prime by the time it all ends. I was left looking forward to more from Muriel.

The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment, the boys were likely to be away.

Allow me to congratulate you warmly upon your sexual intercourse, as well as your singing.

Sandy said: “There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.”

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  1. This is such a good book, as are most books by Spark. And I really envy the edition you have. Maggie Smith and the rest of the cast from the film. She rightly won the best Actress Oscar in 1969 for her portrayel of Miss Jean Brodie.

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