The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

brodieIt can be hard to blog when you know someone else has already said everything you want to. In this instance, it would be James Wood in the essay Harper Perennial included in their edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. I’ll press on in any case.

Before I read the novel, I pretty much knew one thing about Miss Brodie: she is in her prime. She’s got a lot more little aphorisms than that, and they’re all excellent. “For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.” “You are the creme de la creme.” “Safety does not come first. Goodness, truth, and beauty come first.” And there’s a reason this is what people remember—this is all we know about Miss Brodie.

We have a narrator with the benefit of hindsight, who can warn us about Sandy’s small, peering eyes “which it was astonishing that anyone could trust” and who bends the timeline expertly. This novel has some of the most effective flash-forwards I’ve ever read. But this chronological omniscience is tempered by impressive control over perspective. We can be alone with the girls, but never with Miss Brodie. We only see her through the eyes of her set, so we only get the aphorisms of a teacher. Muriel Spark is really good at this, and I’m looking forward to reading a lot more of her work.

One thing that’s still haunting me about this book a bit is why Sandy clutches the bars at the convent. It just seems that it “was her way,” but I wish I felt I understood it better, her conversion and then her entering a convent and then her clutching the bars instead of sitting back in the shadows like the other nuns.

In record time after reading this, thanks to Netflix, I ended up watching the 1968 film starring Maggie Smith. What a great movie! Very different from the novel in some important ways, including in its views into Miss Brodie without the girls. And the confrontation between Miss Brodie and Sandy—but I was a bit glad it was so different, because by then I was enjoying Pamela Franklin’s performance so much that I really liked this scene.

I seem to be on a bit of a Scottish kick lately, between Humphry Clinker, The Provost, this…I’m sure there is other stuff too I’m not thinking of, or maybe it’s just stuff I’m thinking of reading. But I’m really enjoying it. There was lots of great stuff in Miss Brodie about Edinburgh that I wish I had a better feel for. It’s become a place I’d really like to visit though.

2 comments to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

  • You bring this back to me! I read it years ago and loved it. I’d like to read more Muriel Spark, too, and given her books are so short, it might actually be possible to fit them in! I remember paticularly enjoying The Comforters as it was so eccentric and yet so stylish.

  • nicole

    Haha, my feelings about her other books exactly! The Comforters is next on my list for her (not next in general, alas), it sounds great.

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