Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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The classic bestselling book--the subject of a play, a movie, and a song--that tells the darkly fascinating story of a young, unorthodox teacher and her special, and ultimately dangerous, relationship with six of her students.
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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel

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Overview

The classic bestselling book--the subject of a play, a movie, and a song--that tells the darkly fascinating story of a young, unorthodox teacher and her special, and ultimately dangerous, relationship with six of her students.
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What People Are Saying

John Updike
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780241956779
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publication date: 4/28/2012

Meet the Author

Dame Muriel Spark (1918-2006) wrote more than twenty books, including Memento Mori, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, and Symposium.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.

The girls could not take off their panama hats because this was not far from the school gates and hatlessness was an offence. Certain departures from the proper set of the hat on the head were overlooked in the case of fourth-form girls and upwards so long as nobody wore their hat at an angle. But there were other subtle variants from the ordinary rule of wearing the brim turned up at the back and down at the front. The five girls, standing very close to each other because of the boys, wore their hats each with a definite difference.

These girls formed the Brodie set. That was what they had been called even before the headmistress had given them the name, in scorn, when they had moved from the junior to the Senior school at the age of twelve. At that time they had been immediately recognisable as Miss Brodie's pupils, being vastly informed on a lot of subjects irrelevant to the authorised curriculum, as the headmistress said, and useless to the school as a school. These girls were discovered to have heard of the Buchmanites and Mussolini, the Italian Renaissance painters, the advantages to the skin of cleansing cream and witch-hazel over honest soap and water, and the word "menarche"; the interior decoration of the London house of the author of Winnie the Pooh had been described to them, as had the love lives of Charlotte Bronte and of Miss Brodie herself. They were aware ofthe existence of Einstein and the arguments of those who considered the Bible to be untrue. They knew the rudiments of astrology but not the date of the Battle of Flodden or the capital of Finland. All of the Brodie set, save one, counted on its fingers, as had Miss Brodie, with accurate results more or less.

By the time they were sixteen, and had reached the fourth form, and loitered beyond the gates after school, and had adapted themselves to the orthodox regime, they remained unmistakably Brodie, and were all famous in the school, which is to say they were held in suspicion and not much liking. They had no team spirit and very little in common with each other outside their continuing friendship with Jean Brodie. She still taught in the junior department. She was held in great suspicion.

Marcia Blaine School for Girls was a day school which had been partially endowed in the middle of the nineteenth century by the wealthy widow of an Edinburgh book-binder. She had been an admirer of Garibaldi before she died. Her manly portrait hung in the great hall, and was honoured every Founder's Day by a bunch of hard-wearing flowers such as chrysanthemums or dahlias. These were placed in a vase beneath the portrait, upon a lectern which also held an open Bible with the text underlined in red ink, "0 where shall I find a virtuous woman, for her price is above rubies."

The girls who loitered beneath the tree, shoulder to shoulder, very close to each other because of the boys, were all famous for something. Now, at sixteen, Monica Douglas was a prefect, famous mostly for mathematics which she could do in her brain, and for her anger which, when it was lively enough, drove her to slap out to right and left. She had a very red nose, winter and summer, long dark plaits, and fat, peglike legs. Since she had turned sixteen, Monica wore her panama hat rather higher on her head than normal, perched as if it were too small and as if she knew she looked grotesque in any case.

Rose Stanley was famous for sex. Her hat was placed quite unobtrusively on her blonde short hair, but she dented in the crown on either side.

Eunice Gardiner, small, neat and famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamorous swimming, had the brim of her hat turned up at the front and down at the back.

Sandy Stranger wore it turned up all round and as far back on her head as it could possibly go; to assist this, she had attached to her hat a strip of elastic which went under the chin. Sometimes Sandy chewed this elastic and when it was chewed down she sewed on a new piece. She was merely notorious for her small, almost nonexistent, eyes, but she was famous for her vowel sounds which, long ago in the long past, in the junior school, had enraptured Miss Brodie. "Well, come and recite for us please, because it has been a tiring day."

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
She look'd down to Camelot.


"It lifts one up," Miss Brodie usually said, passing her hand outward from her breast towards the class of ten-year-old girls who were listening for the bell which would release them. "Where there is no vision," Miss Brodie had assured them, "the people perish. Eunice, come and do a somersault in order that we may have comic relief."

But now, the boys with their bicycles were cheerfully insulting Jenny Gray about her way of speech which she had got from her elocution classes. She was going to be an actress. She was Sandy's best friend. She wore her hat with the front brim bent sharply downward; she was the prettiest and most graceful girl of the set, and this was her fame. "Don't be a lout, Andrew," she said with her uppish tone. There were three Andrews among the five boys, and these three Andrews now started mimicking Jenny: "Don't be a lout, Andrew," while the girls laughed beneath their bobbing panamas...

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Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary
At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls, in Edinburgh, Scotland, Miss Jean Brodie--teacher extraordinaire--is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with the bachelor music master, Gordon Lowther, and--most importantly--in her dedication to her girls. And her girls--the students she selects to be her creme de la creme--are devoted to Miss Brodie. Each member of the "Brodie set"--Eunice, Jenny, Mary, Monica, Rose, and Sandy--is "famous for something", and Miss Brodie strives to bring out the best in each, and to instill in each an independence, passion, and ambition surpassing her own. "Safety does not come first," Miss Brodie advises her girls. "Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first. Follow me." And they do. But one of her girls will betray her.

Miss Brodie has opponents: the "thrilling" senior science teacher, Miss Lockhart; Miss Gaunt, sister of a strict Calvinist minister; other members of the Marcia Blaine faculty; and the persevering headmistress, Miss Mackay. Miss Mackay, orthodox and traditionalist in her educational principles, is determined to rid her school of Miss Brodie, but is repeatedly stymied. The time is the 1930s. And Miss Brodie, apparently unaware that many might find unacceptable her outspoken admiration for Mussolini and Hitler, revels in, exploits, and shares her prime, only to become a victim of her own irrepressible exuberance. In this "perfect book" (Chicago Tribune), Muriel Spark probes with consummate, compressedartistry the halcyon years of a remarkable woman, whose intelligence, wit, imagination, charm, and elegance--however misguided at times, however fatal--match those of her creator.

Discussion Topics
1. What does Miss Jean Brodie herself mean by the phrases "one's prime" and "the creme de la creme"? What additional meanings do these phrases take on in relation to Miss Brodie, her girls, and other characters?

2. What are Miss Brodie's "principles of education" and the practices she derives from those principles? How do her principles and practices differ from those of Miss Mackay? What are the pros and cons of each approach to education?

3. How do Miss Lockhart and her science room contrast with Miss Brodie and her lessons? Why are the girls "enthralled" by Miss Lockhart's science room? What ironies are involved in Miss Lockhart's marriage to Gordon Lowther?

4. Why does Miss Brodie admire Mussolini and, later, Hitler--"a prophet-figure like Thomas Carlyle, and more reliable than Mussolini"? What parallels emerge between Miss Brodie's "vision" and methods and those of the fascist dictators she admires? How do Miss Brodie's "politics" affect her life and her pupils' lives?

5. To what extent is Sandy's betrayal of Miss Brodie a multiple betrayal? Why does Sandy betray her former teacher? What connections exist between Sandy's relationship with Miss Brodie, her discovery of Calvinism, and her becoming a Catholic nun and the author of an influential book on moral perception? To what extent might Sandy's betrayal of Miss Brodie be justified?

6. How does Miss Brodie's attitude toward "team spirit"--it is "always employed to cut across individualism, love and personal loyalties," she announces--both agree with her educational principles and undermine her relationship with her students? What dangers arise from allegiance to a tightly organized group?

7. How does Miss Brodie's story of her ancestor, Willie Brodie, and his cheerful death "on a gibbet of his own devising"--"it is the stuff I am made of"--reflect on her own life and personality? Does Miss Brodie die "cheerfully on a gibbet of [her] own devising"?

8. When the seventeen-year-old Sandy realizes Miss Brodie's plans for Rose and Teddy Lloyd, she decides of Miss Brodie: "She thinks she is Providence . . . she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end." To what extent is Sandy's assessment accurate? Has Miss Brodie assumed godlike prerogatives?

9. Shortly after her forced retirement, Miss Brodie writes to Sandy, questioning who might have betrayed her. Sandy replies, "If you did not betray us it is impossible that you could have been betrayed by us." In what ways does Miss Brodie betray her girls?

10. What is the role of religion in the novel, in Miss Brodie's behavior, and in Sandy's and the other girls' lives? What correspondences are established among Scottish Calvinism, Roman Catholicism, and fascism?

 

About the Author
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1918, Muriel Spark is considered one of the giants of twentieth-century fiction. John Updike described her in The New Yorker as "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." With her numerous works, which include Memento Mori, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, and Symposium, she joins two great traditions of the English novel: that of the comedy of manners ("the Jane Austen of the surrealists," David Pryce-Jones has called Spark); and that of romantic-gothic fiction, from the Brontes and Mary Shelley onward. After writing more than twenty books and receiving various literary awards, Spark was created a Dame in the Order of the British Empire in 1993. She currently makes her home in Italy.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 15 of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2009

    Great Book.

    I read this book all in one day while I was laying out on the lake. I made my friends read it, and they all loved it too. Some joked that I reminded them of Miss Jean Brodie!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2003

    Civilization in the balance

    A useful approach to analyzing The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (by Muriel Sparks) is to examine the school as a microcosm of civilization (much as William Golding intended his little island to be examined in Lord of the Flies), in this case a civilization with a particularly English culture. It has adult teachers who champion various views and children who must live under the effects those views create when put into practice. The school has a traditional order which Miss Jean Brodie, a fascist and then national socialist sympathizer, seeks to overturn by varying from the curriculum and structure of the school as it developed over time. Brodie is very intelligent and very careful to cultivate an appreciation for 'the true, the good, and the beautiful' in her students initially. However, rather than follow the traditional order and curriculum established within the school, she begins to teach off-subject and off-location, then forms a select group from her students which she distinguishes from her other students and attempts to indoctrinate this special group with her views. Indeed, Brodie attempts to cultivate this special group in a manner akin to the ¿Aryan¿ supermen championed by Hitler. The group even contains a scapegoat member who Sparks carefully identifies as non-Jewish. Rather, Mary MacGregor is an Irish-Catholic (a group long suffering under the conquering English). By being non-Jewish, Sparks illustrates that scapegoats need not always be Jewish (the 'scapegoat' can take different forms) and that England has its own history of ill-treatment towards those of non-Anglican, non-English origin. The story's scapegoat, Mary, is always kept as a part of the group and always treated as the least of the group ¿ she is frequently belittled and insulted - so as to enable feelings of superiority among other members of the group; who in turn are each very careful not to become too friendly with Mary. This process also carefully illustrates to the group that a failure to please Miss Brodie by agreeing with the ideology she espouses will subject them to a similar fate. Moreover, Sparks, a Catholic herself, wishes to illustrate that Catholicism may have harnessed Jean Brodie¿s formidable intellect and imagination for good rather than the more sinister outcome that arises as the book carries forward. As a fascist who becomes an even more extreme national socialist as the story goes on, Brodie is a pseudo-Nietzschean in the sense that she clearly agrees with (but also twists) Nietzsche¿s argument for a new implementation of ¿noble virtue¿ as against the ¿slave morality¿ represented by Christianity and other forms of religion that require recognition of traditions, obedience to ¿commands of God,¿ especially those commands that require a person to show care or concern for ¿lesser¿ people. To Nietzsche, those who can must become commanders and law-givers. Society must never exist for its own sake, but only as ¿a foundation and scaffolding by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties [which is to say] to a higher existence.¿ (Beyond Good and Evil). National socialists turned to this argument and developed the idea of a super-race. This super-race is to replace God and become the law-giver and commander of all the other supposedly 'lesser' races. Although Brodie only gradually reveals this as the basis of her thought, her creation of a special class of students early on combined with the belittling of other hints at where she intends to lead her group. Ultimately, like the Lord of the Flies, this book presents a question of how a civilization might survive when barbarianism arises within the ranks. In this case, it is the barbarianism of a totalitarian ideology and it matters not whether that ideology is ultimately fascism, communism, socialism, national socialism, or perhaps in some respects, capitalism. Such ideologies, which create a simplified view of the

    2 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2000

    One of Sparks' best!!

    Sparks is a consumate writer and her descriptions of this English Teacher's life and that of her pupil's will touch your heart. She has truly captured English eccentricities that carry the novel into your memory. A must have for any Anglophile.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Kids go away

    Children, take your stuoid game somewhere ekse and play. This is a book review site for adults to disuss books. Go to facebook, myspace, a blog or the sand box but get off here.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 18, 2013

    The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

    I finished the book. I didn't care for the book that much. My book club is reading it. I probably would not have read this book otherwise. I didn't care for the characters in the book. Reminded me too much of my high school days and the cliques that form with young school aged girls. It was even more disturbing that a teacher was part of the problem. I like the idea of being independent and a critical thinker, but not at the expense of others.

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  • Posted November 2, 2012

    highly recommended

    good read enjoyed this book even rented the movie ..

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    Dk

    There. Dk

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    Rp

    Hole result one.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Ashstar

    *padded into the forest*

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2012

    To the clans,pelts, and stars

    I've been wondering why you all do this. And what exactly do you do

    0 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2009

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