I read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ as part of the David Bowie reading challenge that I first heard of on Jade Scatterbooker’s blog.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Muriel Spark’s most significant and celebrated novel, and remains as dazzling as when it was first published in 1961.
Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher unlike any other, proud and cultured, enigmatic and freethinking; a romantic, with progressive, sometimes shocking ideas and aspirations for the girls in her charge. At the Marcia Blaine Academy she takes a select group of girls under her wing. Spellbound by Miss Brodie’s unconventional teaching, these devoted pupils form the Brodie set. But as the girls enter their teenage years and they become increasingly drawn in by Miss Brodie’s personal life, her ambitions for them take a startling and dark turn with devastating consequences.
This book has been on my radar for years, but for some reason I’ve never got round to it or seen the iconic film version. I have read Spark’s ‘The Driver’s Seat’ which was brilliant and strange and shocking, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this.
It’s also brilliant and strange and shocking. Spark is a writer who refuses to be bound by convention. She writes in the way she wants to write and this book is wonderful because of that. Miss Jean Brodie is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever read about, and the way she speaks and behaves are skilfully portrayed. The narrative moves back and forth, showing the teacher and her girls at various stages from when they are ten right through to when they are adults.
The way Brodie manipulates and influences the girls is shocking at times, as is the behaviour of the girls themselves (and some of the other teachers). And the casual cruelties, particularly directed at poor, unfortunate Mary, reveal so much about human relationships. The interactions between the characters also reveal a lot about the conventions and social issues of the time, in the years leading up to the Second World War.
The book is short but it packs so much in. The economy of the writing shows real skill. Spark manages to say a great deal in a few words – a lesson that many writers could do with learning. Her use of language is the epitome of every word having meaning. There are no whimsical meanderings here.
Intelligent, dark, subtle and skillful – genuinely a classic.