On Our Bookshelves: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

NOVEL: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

AUTHOR: Muriel Spark



Elegant, mature, independently-minded, teacher Jean Brodie habitually reminds her students that she is “at her prime”, and she must live it to the full.  So indulge in her exalted lifestyle. Miss Brodie certainly does, defying every rigidly enforced moral and social rule of pre-war Scottish society.

Miss Brodie is quite the character, you see.

She holds, almost religiously, onto the notion that she is way above her peers, finding even a casual conversation bland and tasteless. So Miss Brodie does what Miss Brodie does. She puts some unfledged pupils under her wing and sets out to mold them in both image and likeness.  This is her way of engineering her “set” of loyal confidantes — the “Bordie set”, whom she describes as “creme de la creme”, and with whom she can talk sense and share secrets.

Miss Brodie also believes, as a woman of her prime, that she owns the world.  Every man is there for her to pick, and to dismiss, at her whim.  But when the charming, but very married Teddy Lloyd enters her life, Miss Brodie falters momentarily, finally deciding that having a relationship with a wedded man proves too prohibitive a boundary to cross.

Then entering the picture is the ever-faithful Gordon Lowther,  but Miss Brodie does not seem to care for this adoring suitor — for he has “short legs” and is a bit taciturn.  And so Miss Brodie lets another opportunity drift right pass beneath her nose.

This may seem strange, but it’s impossible for a reader not to fall madly in love with Miss Brodie, too.  And while she’ll keep you off-kilter and back-footed, it is her exuberance and self-confident disposition, above her graceful, robust Scottish face, that is enough to captivate your fancy and imagination.

“The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, a short 1961 novel of Muriel Spark, has a simple and melancholic plot, with most elegance prose, and with deep and complex characters.  But it is a book that has to be read with your heart and not your eyes, as the main messages are not written; they are to be felt. And this makes reading “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” a most extraordinary experience.

A word of caution for readers: avoid watching the 1969 film adaptation.  It spoils the fun.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): Four-And-A-Half Whistles




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