‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark

My rating: 4 stars

Whether they desire it or not, some teachers can be a huge source of inspiration. The title character of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark derived great satisfaction from the influence that she had over her pupils, particularly the group of girls known as the Brodie set. Throughout this novella, Miss Brodie looms large, despite the story almost never being told from her perspective. Such an interesting and problematic character called for a slightly longer book.

A group of girls (Monica, Rose, Eunice, Sandy, Jenny and Mary) at Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh was known as the Brodie set. Jean Brodie was their teacher when they were at junior school in the 1930s. Although her teaching methods were not, overall, well regarded at the school, she believed herself to be in her prime. She was interested in art and particularly loved painting. But she also had a strong admiration for Mussolini’s troops. The girls were noticeably under her spell, and Miss Brodie didn’t want to lose her influence.

The plot jumps in time. Readers get to succinctly know what the Brodie set were up to when they were around 10, 16 and then as adults. When they were 16 years old, Miss Brodie asked for their help, as there was a plot at school to force her to resign. Before she died, she kept questioning whom amongst her girls had betrayed her. What was behind the betrayal starts getting revealed without details, being only briefly mentioned, and only afterwards it’s further explored.

We’re not inside Miss Brodie’s head. We get to know her from the perspectives of others. Her teaching methods and way of leading her love life may initially seem in stark contrast to her fascination for fascism, but they actually aren’t. She seemed to revel in the power she exerted on her young students.

The prose is for the most part engrossing and, occasionally, funny. For that reason, the book could have been longer and explore some moments and interactions between the characters further.

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