I chose to read Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie for the “Classic by a Woman Author” category in the Back to the Classics 2021 challenge.
OMG… where did the year go? I still have seven books to read for this challenge, and only three months left to do it! Take into account that those months are going to include my first Stephen West Mystery Knit Along, my eighth NaNoWriMo, and then the downhill run to the end of the year, and this is going to be a tight squeeze.
Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for girls in Edinburgh. After losing her fiance to WW1, Miss Brodie has become an independent woman who spends her holidays traveling the world. At the beginning of the 1930s Miss Brodie is in what she considers to be the prime of her life, and she is determined to impress this fact on her young students .
I don’t know what I expected going in to this one. I knew that the book had been made into a movie starring Maggie Smith – long before she was *Dame* Maggie Smith, and I was vaguely aware that the title character was a teacher. I think given that information I expected the story to be about Miss Jean Brodie…
Miss Brodie is central to the narrative, she is ever-present, but the book isn’t really about her. It is about the effect she has on other people. She is not well liked by most of her fellow teachers, partly because of the effect she has on all the males around her, and partly because of her unusual philosophy of teaching. She prefers to give her students lessons about life rather than grammar and history. Miss Brodie openly has a group of favourites among the students, and they clearly worship her. She has very little time for the other students in her class, and keeps in touch with “the Brodie set” even after they move up into the senior school.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is really a novella – only about 130 pages. Still, in such a small space Spark examines some big issues. Politics, religion, and sexual morality are all explored, although not in any real depth. The tone is lighthearted… until it isn’t. Overall I would say I liked it, but I don’t think I’ll be adding it to my list of favourite books.