#158 ~ The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie


The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie  by Muriel Spark

Miss Jean Brodie isn’t just another teacher at Marcia Blaine School for Girls.  She is unconventional and subversive in her teaching methods and in what she teaches.  Most importantly, Miss Jean Brodie is in her prime.  It is because she is in her prime that her Brodie set, consisting of 10-year-olds Sandy, Rose, Mary, Jenny, Monica, and Eunice, have the opportunity of their lives.  Of all the girls in the school, they have the opportunity to become the crème de la crème.  All the while the Brodie set was directly under her influence and as they moved on in their education at the school, the headmistress, Miss Mackay, is looking for a reason to remove Miss Brodie from her teaching position. In the end, it is because one of her own set betrays her that Jean Brodie is removed from her position before she was ready.

Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark

The story of Miss Jean Brodie, her life, her lovers, her politics, and her set is not told in chronological order. From the beginning of the story, the narrator discusses Miss Brodie’s ultimate betrayal and the outcome of each of the Brodie set.  These facts, such as Mary’s death in a fire while running back and forth down the halllway, are also repeated throughout the novel.  There were times While the reader isn’t told exactly how Miss Brodie is betrayed, the betrayer is identified well  before the end.  This structure kept me at arm’s length from the characters.  Discovering exactly how Miss Brodie was betrayed was not enough to keep me interested in the story. 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie didn’t work for me.  I was expecting for something much darker.  I found the repetiton in the narrative irritating. Every time it was mentioned that Miss Brodie was in her prime or that one or more of the Brodie set had the potential to be the crème de la crème, I was frustrated because I could not figure out what was so special about Miss Brodie’s prime or any one of the chosen girls in her set. My experience with this book is similar to that of my viewing of “The Talented Mr. Ripley.”  Just as Roger Ebert highly recommended that movie, The Guardian‘s James Wood, who writes an essay that is included in HarperCollins‘ edition, chose The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as one of the best books since 1945.  In both cases, I couldn’t understand the appeal.  Unlike with “The Talented Mr.  Ripley,” I didn’t regret the time I spent with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  I simply came away from the novel wondering what it was that I had missed.


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  • At 2009.05.02 02:01, sheri said:

    well, at least the cover was super groovy.

    sheri’s last blog post..Book Review: Mating Rituals of the North American WASP

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    • At 2009.05.02 07:03, S said:

      I almost hate it when I read an article where a respected person says something like that. How in the world can it live up to “the best book since 1945”?

      S’s last blog post..Brideshead Revisted – Evelyn Waugh (audio)

      • At 2009.05.02 08:24, Care said:

        Well, I’m glad I read it even tho it wasn’t as good as I expected or hoped. and the movie was a treat. I only wish I could undo the experience and see how it would play if I say the movie first, then read the book. We will never know….

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        • At 2009.05.02 09:54, Kathy said:

          I was excited to see your review; hoping you’d discovered a hidden gem from the past we’d all missed. At least you’ve saved me the trouble of reading it. Sorry it didn’t work for you.

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          • At 2009.05.02 18:46, Oh said:

            I enjoyed the movie thanks to the venerable Maggie Smith but haven’t read the book! And I have to tell you that I so enjoy stopping here. And the design of your blog is so cool, it’s an immediate “lift!”

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            • At 2009.05.07 10:35, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

              I’m sorry you didn’t dig this book, but thanks for taking one for the team so we didn’t all read it!

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              • At 2009.05.26 13:36, Susan's Literary Cafe said:

                Too bad you did not like the book. Just found your post about this book. Love your blog. I wanted to join your book club a few months ago. But unfortunately I was in school. Is there still room for your book club?

                • […] The Literate Housewife […]

                  • At 2011.04.26 19:37, Natalie Brown said:

                    I loved this book! I felt that it was the development of the characters that kept me hooked and the effect that brodie ultimitly had on their lives. Even if you know the end that aspect is still fasinating. Also i’m from edinburgh so all the street refrences are quite cool. I used to get the 23 bus to school from lauriston place. The hospital is no longer there though 🙁
                    Fun Fact: My granmother went to the school that Marcia Blaine School for Girls was based on.

                    • At 2011.04.26 21:13, Jennifer said:

                      Natalie, that just goes to show the beauty of books! You have such a connection to it and I’m jealous! I aol wanted to love that book. I’m so glad to know that you did. I really am glad that you stopped by!

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