Welcome back to another review! My mum has been wanting me to read this for ages, as it’s one of her favourites, and seeing as it’s so short, I decided to give it a go. I know it’s another classic- I promise more modern book reviews soon 🙂
‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ is about an eccentric teacher who takes charge of certain pupils from the school in which she teaches, choosing to educate the girls in matters such as art, history and politics. As well as steering clear of the school curriculum, she also tells the girls all about her love life, her heartache and affairs, and she intends to make the girls suitable for the world, schooling them as she sees fit.
Throughout the book, Miss Jean Brodie is idealised by the girls she chooses, teaching and schooling them from the age of 10 until they leave school. She is seen as someone to aspire to be. Set just after the First World War, where women were seen as old maids if they were not married young, a feat even harder considering the losses of the war, Jean Brodie represents a different way of thinking. In this way I thought the book was going to be inspiring, teaching the girls subjects that the headteacher disproves of. But then the book just got strange, and Miss Jean Brodie became more and more possessive, obsessive and mean.
While most of the girls continue to idealise Jean Brodie as she turns from subversive to unhinged, the point of view of Sandy introduces an interesting perspective on Jean Brodie. The girls become caught up in the love triangle between Jean, Mr Lowther (the music teacher) and Mr Lloyd (the art teacher). While desperately in love with Mr Lloyd, Jean Brodie cannot enter into an affair with him due to the fact that he is married, and so she begins to sleep with Mr Lowther, a man desperately in love with her whom she forever dismisses. She uses the girls to meet her own ends in this love triangle, committing acts which border on insane in order to satisfy her love for Mr Lloyd.
I don’t want to say much more about the general plot of the book because I’ve already said a lot but yes, it was strange. But I also really enjoyed it. At the start I liked Jean Brodie- she was strong, assertive and subversive, fighting against the attempts of the headteacher, Miss Mackay, to get her fired, in order to teach her girls a little something about the world. As a woman who was ‘on the shelf’ after her finacé died in the war, I thought it was refreshing how she was independent and outspoken, both in her teaching methods and in her love life.
However, my opinion of this central figure quickly changed as she became inappropriate with the girls, and began to involve them in her love life, imposing her strong views about fascism etc. on the girls and teaching them misguided ideas from an impressionable age. While I know many people describe Jean Brodie as simply ‘eccentric’ or ‘quirky’ or ‘before her time’ I would beg to differ. Yes, some of the views she has in terms of what to teach young girls are progressive, but I would argue that her whole outlook on teaching is insane, and she becomes so possessive of both her love interests and her girls, that she becomes a worrying character.
Despite these strong views on Jean Brodie I really enjoyed this book, and the setting of Blaine in Scotland was an interesting place, as I learnt a little more about Edinburgh history and I haven’t read many books set in Scotland. I would also like to try some more of Muriel Spark’s novels as they have an interesting and easy-to-read prose style.
Have you read ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’? Do you agree with my opinions? Have you read any other Muriel Spark novels? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below.