Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Review)

Labels: Great Works

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Muriel Spark, 1961
127 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
October 2009

While I'm not sure this is truly one of literature's "great works," it has nonetheless endured for 50 years, inspiring stage and film productions along the way. The reason lies in its heroine, Miss Jean Brodie, who intrigues, infuriates and always captivates readers.

Miss Brodie is a born teacher. She refuses to follow prescribed curricula, preferring instead to enliven her lessons with stories and class trips. Education, she believes, is not stuffing young minds with facts but drawing out what's already in them, enlarging and polishing their innate curiosity and imagination.

The book is funny. We're never inside Miss Brodie's mind but on the outside, viewing her through the lens of 10- and 11-year-old students, a perspective that leads to some very funny observations. The girls' ideas of the grown-up world are delightful, especially their budding curiosity and fixation on sex.

Despite its humor, the seriousness of Spark's novel is always felt. Miss Brodie is strange, even troubling, as she singles out six of her girl students whom she feels have special talents. Under her tutelage the girls, known as "the Brodie set," are to become the "creme de la creme"—superior beings. Yet her ideals of superiority eventually lead her down a path toward Mussolini and Hitler, leaders she openly admires.

I think book clubs would have terrific discussions surrounding Miss Brodie's true intentions. Whose best interests is she mindful of—the girls or her own? Is she simply silly, as a one of her girls later believes, or is her power over them of a more pernicious nature? She is betrayed by one of her own—we are told this early on—and the story works its way to discover who did so and why. Great meat to chew on.

See our Reading Guide for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

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