Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

by drpoppy

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading The Luminaries, I decided to go with something brief. And yet, despite its brevity, there was something similar about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and it had to do with expecting one thing from the book and getting something very different. Based on the description from the back of the book, I expected a story about a woman whose honesty and sexual daring and pedagogical experimentation led to her tragic self-destruction. However, Miss Brodie’s unorthodox pedagogy stems entirely from a cult of personality rather than a nurturing of intellect. Instead of telling the girls the standard way to think, Miss Brodie simply tells the girls a different way to think. But she still dictates their thinking; despite her proclamations to the contrary, she does not really teach the girls to think for themselves, but rather, she exhorts them to think the same way she does, and she pins stifling destinies and identities upon them based on her own perceptions of them. Her politics reflect her style of teaching.

Of course, one could argue that she actually does succeed, with Sandy, who betrays her. But my sense is that Sandy’s development has little to do with encouragement from Miss Brodie. She already has such an active imagination, fantasizing as she does about having relationships and conversations with fictional characters as well as people from Miss Brodie’s past. Then again, perhaps she is not an independent thinker, but rather just another version of the fascistic Miss Brodie, seeing everything through the lens of her own experiences and knowledge, with no sense of the effects of her actions on other people. One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Sandy wonders whether it is Miss Brodie or her own perception of Miss Brodie that changes so drastically as she comes of age.

Spark’s style is admirable; her use of temporality is masterful and her sentences crackle with a terrible and precise beauty. Though brief, this novel was enjoyable and provocative.

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