Tuesday, October 18, 2011

2011 (cbriii) #6 "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" by Muriel Spark

I came across The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) by Muriel Spark when my mother was cleaning out her bookshelf in anticipation of moving. I'm always a sucker for free books and although I had never heard of it, this slim novel looked like some kind of classic. I couldn't resist. (And, of course, it turns out that it is a major classic, with film, television, and theatrical adaptations).

Miss Jean Brodie is an unorthodox teacher in a junior school in 1930's Edinburgh. Six young girls become her favorites and are known as the "Brodie set." Miss Brodie wants to give these girls a full education and strives to go beyond the narrow confines of the recommended curriculum. As the girls grow out of her class, Miss Brodie continues to be an exceptional influence on their lives. However, the relationships are complex and sometimes dysfunctional.

What makes this book interesting are Spark's characters. Miss Brodie is devoted to her students and eager to teach them. However, she also uses them for her own purposes and to make herself feel more important. She is not a heroic character fighting against an antiquated education system. She is sneaky, self-serving, and often wrong. Sandy, one of Miss Brodie's students, is another fascinating character. She is Miss Brodie's closest confidante, but she often works against her.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of those books that can be read quickly and easily, but figuring out the nuances and meanings can go on forever. It might be a good one for a book club with some discussion. I finished it feeling somewhat confused, and it would have been good to hear different perspectives of what other readers thought was going on. This was an interesting classic and worth reading but not one of my favorites. It felt more like a book I was told to read in English class than one I could really relate to and love on my own.

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