Jamilla Rice's Reviews > The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
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Jun 17, 12

Read in June, 2012

A very unassuming little book, one cover description gives it the daunting moniker of being "perfect". I don't know if I necessarily agree with such a high honor, Chicago Tribune, but I do believe that it's pretty darn good. In a recent tweet, before I finished this book, I said that it was a "must read" for anyone in a teacher education program. I rescind that and revise it to say that it is a "must read" for all teachers, new and old, who have yet to read it.


Set primarily in the 1930s, the book is mainly about how six young girls in Miss Brodie's "set" are influenced by the title character, their lower school teacher, while she is in her ever-mentioned "prime" of life. It is interesting that both of the essays which follow the book in the version I read speak of how little Spark allows us, the reader, to know of Miss Brodie, treating the reader as if she/he is also one of Miss Brodie's "set", her "creme de la creme", also manipulated by her unorthodox actions and witty maxims.


The book raises many questions about education, namely, what does it mean to be an educator, or to be educated? Miss Brodie often states that she does not "put in" facts and dates but "draws out" knowledge from her girls. However, she contradicts herself whilst in the midst of this lesson when she asks one of her special girls to repeat what she has just said. Brodie also lives to differentiate herself from the other boring spinsters within the conservative Marcia Blaine School for Girls, by comparing their foibles with her daring and involving the girls in her constant ruses to circumvent the traditional curriculum for stories of her travels abroad and of her romantic encounters whist there.


I can't help but wonder how long a Miss Brodie might last in today's world of teacher accountability, high stakes testing, scripted lessons, and the No Child Left Behind Act. She would either not have lasted half a semester, or she would have been a veteran teacher and the head of the labor union, no doubt. No in-between for our Miss Jean.


Favorite Quotes:

"Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me."
"It is obvious," said Miss Brodie, "that these girls are not of cultured homes and heritage. The Philistines are upon us, Mr. Lloyd."
"There needs must be a leaven in the lump."
"Mary, what does to talk nasally mean?" Mary did not know. "Stupid as ever," said Miss Brodie. "Eunice?"
"These are the years of my prime. You are benefitting from my prime . . ."
"The influences of one's teens are very important," said the man. "Oh yes," said Sandy, "even if they provide something to react against."
"What was your biggest influence, then, Sister Helena? Was it political, personal? Was it Calvinism?" "Oh no," said Sandy. "But there was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime."
"Would that I had been given charge of you girls when you were seven. I sometimes fear it's too late now. If you had been mine when you were seven you would have been the creme de la creme."
"A teacher of mine, she was full of culture. She was an Edinburgh Festival all on her own."
"Hold up your books," said Miss Brodie quite often that autumn, "prop them up in your hands, in case of intruders. If there are any intruders, we are doing our history lesson . . . our poetry . . . English grammar."
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 unmistakable 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.
"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life."
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