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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel Paperback – February 6, 2018
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“Admirably written.” (Saturday Review)
“A gloriously witty and polished vignette.” (Times Literary Supplement)
“Remarkable: Surprises are systematically reduced until there is only one left, and it is like the stab of a stiletto.” (Spectator)
“[A] lovely new edition. . . . With caustic humor and stripped-down restraint, Spark makes us feel Jean Brodie’s sadness and ache. Maggie Smith played the character in a famous film, but the book itself is even more powerful.” (Los Angeles Times)
“A remarkable novel.” (New Statesman)
“A perfect book.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Intelligent, witty. . . . Spark’s powers of invention are apparently inexhaustible.” (Commonweal)
“Muriel Spark is one of the few writers on either side of the Atlantic with enough resources, daring, and stamina to be altering, as well as feeding, the fiction machine.” (John Updike, The New Yorker)
From the Inside Flap
The brevity of Muriel Spark's novels is equaled only by their brilliance. These four novels, each a miniature masterpiece, illustrate her development over four decades. Despite the seriousness of their themes, all four are fantastic comedies of manners, bristling with wit.
Spark's most celebrated novel, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, tells the story of a charismatic schoolteacher's catastrophic effect on her pupils. THE GIRLS OF SLENDER MEANS" is a beautifully drawn portrait of young women living in a hostel in London in the giddy postwar days of 1945. THE DRIVER'S SEAT follows the final haunted hours of a woman descending into madness. And THE ONLY PROBLEM is a witty fable about suffering that brings the Book of Job to bear on contemporary terrorism.
All four novels give evidence of one of the most original and unmistakable voices in contemporary fiction. Characters are vividly etched in a few words; earth-shaking events are lightly touched on. Yet underneath the glittering surface there is an obsessive probing of metaphysical questions: the meaning of good and evil, the need for salvation, the search for significance.
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I adored Miss Jean Brodie. Her fun and artistic atmosphere is a haze around her personality warts, like a keen fascination for twentieth century fascism. Her enlightened diatribes underscore a sharp pettiness, and her five favorite pupils shape their lives in accordance to, and reaction against, her philosophies that can be boiled down to: "Love me."
Originally, I was going to give this 4 stars. The last line is so unnecessarily cliche, the focus wobbles around, and characters that have a lot of color become caricatures towards the end. But the more I think on its faults, the more I realize that the story of Jean Brodie could not have been written any other way. When it comes time to draw a portrait of a former object of affection, a whole messy mix of emotions are bound to come out.
(If you've seen the movie, a lot of the plot beats are the same. But there is definitely some new emotional beats to explore in the text)
Most of the story takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. There, in 1930, in spite of the school's fish bowl environment, a teacher, who repeatedly proclaims her prime, creates for herself, with six 10 year old pupils, a secret society. For two years, during school periods scheduled for such subjects as Arithmetic or Geography, she tells her pupils enthralling, fabulistic, stories about her dead lover, Hugh, and her trips to Egypt or Italy, and she shows them prints of paintings. Through the subtext of her lessons and stories, she also sets them against the prevailing, Calvinistic ethos of the school.
At age 16, these girls are still recognized at the school as "unmistakably Brodie" by their unusual knowledge base, their innumeracy, their lack of exposure to the "authorized curriculum", and by how devoted they are to their former teacher. They play golf with Miss Brodie, take tea with her and tutor her in Greek.
The dark side of this devotion and its object is first shown when one girl, Jenny, is easily pressured by Miss Brodie into missing a meeting of "The Dramatic Society" so that she can join the other five girls attending to Miss Brodie's drama---the latest "plot which is afoot" to force Miss Brodie to resign. Later in the book, Miss Brodie attempts to make another of these teenagers (Rose) her unwitting proxy in adultery. And Joyce Emily, a student outside this group---spurred to recklessness under the influence of Miss Brodie---is killed.
Who or what is worthy of devotion ? That's the novel's question. Sandy finally grows to see and love the goodness, truth and beauty of the answer. She's saved from the two fires of delusion consuming the humanity of people in her world of 1930's Edinburgh; and compelled to get Miss Brodie canned.
I loved this book! Very short at 132 pages, but the characters were so intriguing, and the story was wonderful. Especially Miss Brodie - a complicated and flawed woman. Really fine writing and I recommend it.
If you want an education in how the movie and novel mediums differ and what works best in each, read this and compare to the genius movie that was based on it.
A bonus: if anyone has seen the 1969 movie adapted from the book and starring Maggie Smith, you will hear her voice as you read.