Gaurav's Reviews > The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, english, owned

Nothing infuriates people more than their own lack of spiritual insight…

There are very few books which get hold of you from the very first line, for the words are refined with such a surgical precision that you may realize, any sort of modification would come as superfluous and redundant. The authors, who may control the great literary baton to such an effect that there seems to be a pleasing unison between mind and words, are one of the most endangered species. For one always overdo something until one refines it. But there are a few authors who seem to control the mind of readers through an unseen but profound string of narrative which they pull along or otherwise as and when they please. Many a times, we see that people digress much, though sometimes intentionally, to put forward their views which may be clouded. However, we have intellectually unclouded authors such as Muriel Spark who are not prone to descriptive digression, and are able to find the kind of symmetries, echoes and reflections that are a manifestation of the naturally poetic vision. For poetry doesn’t necessarily mean impasto or excrescence, but an infinite unpackability, with which the work of the clean-lined writer is richly pregnant. Spark is one of those authors who neither seduced by nor convinced of the seductive effects of nimiety or explication. Partly this is because she is a poet, and partly it is because she makes characters who are at once individuals and archetypes. It is also because she is technician of the highest order. The restraint and control of the technique render the creation not flat but right.



The Brodie’s set were small girls firstly under the glamour of a woman who herself was glamorized by Fascism, by romantic death, by war, by myth, by the old songs, and of course by what she refers to as Goodness, truth and beauty. Miss Brodie, who always said of herself that she was in her prime, was in love with Mr. Lloyd, the art master, but he was married, so she gave him up. Instead she had a love affair with Mr. Lowther, the music master. He tired of her & married Miss Lockhart, the science teacher. After that, Miss Brodie concentrated on the eventuality of a love affair between Rose, one of her set, who modelled for Mr. Lloyd. She derived a vicarious pleasure from this. She confided in Sandy, another member of her set. We see Brodie’s determination to instill a love of art and beauty in her pupils, witness her defiance of educational orthodoxy and learn of her relations with a raffish art teacher and a shy music master. We are also reminded of Brodie’s unstinting admiration for Mussolini. She is also, we are reminded, a charismatic fascist. She finds a vibrant charm in fascism, which according to her, carries an air of art. Although Brodie claims education is “a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul”, she is actually a rigid dogmatist, firmly announcing that Giotto is the greatest Italian artist, and even a classroom pimp in her attempt to manipulate the sexual progress of her girls. One of the novel’s achievements is the spare but realistic way that Spark maps out their sexual awakening. When first her set is devised, the girls are ten years old and on the verge of raising questions about their own sexualities. Miss Brodie’s hubristic desire for a heightened life; the easiness with which lies come to her; her cultural snobberies and limitations; her desire for control and victory, reflects her faults. Miss Brodie plans to control and manipulate the lives of her girls- Brodie’s set. But you realize that Spark actually controls the narrative of the book through girls of Brodie’s set. We see a constant struggle of individuality of the girls of Brodie's with the collective identity of the set, to come out of the influence of Miss Brodie and to realize life on their own.

You are very fortunate in Miss Brodie. I could wish your arithmetic papers had been better. I am always impressed by Miss Brodie’s girls in one way or another. You will have to work hard at ordinary humble subjects for the qualifying examination. Miss Brodie is giving you an excellent preparation of the Senior school. Culture cannot compensate for the lack of hard knowledge. I am happy to see you are devoted to Miss Brodie. Your loyalty is due to the school rather than to any one individual.


The use of time to control the narrative of the book is second to none, which is not stream-of-consciousness but the use of flashbacks and flash- forwards, it is one of the delicious discomfitures offered by the work of Spark -her swiveling proleptic use of time. We see that the book keeps on moving to and fro in timeline as if the movement between the present and future is intercepted by uncertainties of the past, the glimpses of a tree is seen before sowing of seed. This technique allows for certain, character-forming pieces of information to be revealed at opportune moments, rather than as they might have become apparent if the narrative was to follow a traditional chronology.The author of the book cleverly uses duplication while moving effortlessly through time, the trick is quite masterfully used to manipulate the memory of the readers in way so that narrator does not leave his/ her readers and always guides the reader as he/ she wants. This unique technique of Spark does not forclose upon suspense but rather tightens its momentum which underlines her might as an author. Spark also used laughter as one of the means of getting reality of the inescapable across her readers. The mortal relief in the universe is of laughter. Miss Brodie resorts to the rhetorical tricks and poses of staginess, the children resort to the self- dramatizing and internal escape of day-dreaming. There is an omnipresent third person narrator who controls the narrative of the book right through the end. One of the girls from the Brodie's set happens to write a book about metamorphosis of Brodie's set from commonplace. It is a coming of age psychology book about morality, it sows the seeds of skepticism in the mind of reader and you are bound to think whether this very book is the book which she writes, that's very smart and unique of Spark.



All of us have at least one such teacher who made us much of what we are, I came under influence of such a teacher around 10 years ago, he exposed me to classical literature and philosophy especially existentialism, nihilism and absurdism. It underlines the power of this great book whose themes being, in their concrete specific evocation of the commonplace, wonderfully transfigured, unforgettable and universal. The book is technically beyond praise. The pressure it exerts upon mind is controlled by a guiding spirit that reveals to us the moral universe while affording the refreshment of laughter and revelation. It is one of those deceptively thoughtful books which leave you baffled and sort of words with its undercurrent of themes which demand a careful study of the characters- perhaps disquieted but not really with the intent to re-read it, for you vividly remember what has transpired through the pages of this book but you are not sure whether you understood it the way it should have been or everyone has his/ her own understanding. And probably I’m not sure too whether I’ve done justice to the book, for I’ve not felt such helplessness to express what I feel.

4.5/5
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Reading Progress

August 3, 2016 – Shelved
August 3, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
August 3, 2016 – Shelved as: classics
August 21, 2016 – Shelved as: english
November 15, 2016 – Shelved as: owned
May 18, 2019 – Started Reading
May 18, 2019 –
page 14
10.94% "It's well, when in difficulties, to say never a word, neither black nor white. Speech is silver but silence is golden."
May 20, 2019 –
page 88
68.75% "It is impossible to persuade a man who does not disagree, but smiles."
May 22, 2019 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala The use of time to control the narrative of the book is second to none

Great point, Gaurav, and you mention the repetitions too which are another method of control, directing the reader to focus on what the author wants us to focus on. She is very skillful, isn't she?
I'm very glad to see you've enjoyed this unusual book so much — your reflections on it are very rich.


Gaurav Fionnuala wrote: "The use of time to control the narrative of the book is second to none

Great point, Gaurav, and you mention the repetitions too which are another method of control, directing the reader to focus o..."


Thanks a lot Fionnuala for your kind words. Indeed, she had been a very skillful author, this the very experience of her prose to me and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I'm planning to read another book- Drivers Seat by her soon. And the credit must goes to you for introducing me to this wonderful writer in such a convincing way.


message 3: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Gaurav wrote: "…I'm planning to read another book- Drivers Seat by her soon..."

That one is radically different from this one, Gaurav, and 'radical' is by no means too strong a word.


message 4: by Florencia (new)

Florencia It is always a pleasure to find such a brilliant analysis of a book, Gaurav. Your reviews are as gripping as the book itself. I've read quite a bit about Spark this week thanks to a couple of friends, so I'll definitely give one of her books a try someday, perhaps this one first. Thank you. :)


message 5: by Gaurav (last edited May 24, 2019 09:31AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gaurav Fionnuala wrote: "Gaurav wrote: "…I'm planning to read another book- Drivers Seat by her soon..."

That one is radically different from this one, Gaurav, and 'radical' is by no means too strong a word."


Yeah, you're right, Fionnuala. I read its introduction, it was advertised as 'metaphysical shocker' and it deals with themes of alienation, isolation and loss of spiritual values. Perhaps that what intrigued me to try this book.


Gaurav Florencia wrote: "It is always a pleasure to find such a brilliant analysis of a book, Gaurav. Your reviews are as gripping as the book itself. I've read quite a bit about Spark this week thanks to a couple of frien..."

You've been kind as usual, Florencia! Yeah, I too have come to know about Spark through Goodreads. Glad to know that you'll be reading Spark, she was a genius, really. Will be awaiting to read what you make out of it :)


Ilse Superb review of this novel, Gaurav! Observing someone living vicariously I often find unsettling. Tempted by the Spark journey of some friends here lately, I started 'The girls of slender means' yesterday, and what you write here so insightfully on the first sentence of Miss Brodie would be entirely apposite for the first line of 'The girls of slender means' too: 'Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions'. What a writer...


Gaurav Ilse wrote: "Superb review of this novel, Gaurav! Observing someone living vicariously I often find unsettling. Tempted by the Spark journey of some friends here lately, I started 'The girls of slender means' y..."

Thanks a lot Ilse, you always have been kind. Indeed, she was a great writer. The book, whose line you shared, seems to be another interesting read by Spark but first I'll go for "Driver's seat. Nevertheless, I'd be eagerly waiting to read your views on 'The girls of slender means', for your write- ups are always a treat to read.


message 9: by Sh (new) - added it

Sh Kishan Excellent write-up, I heard a lot about the author but haven't read her yet. This review of yours makes the book quite teasing, perhaps I would be reading it soon.


s.penkevich Extraordinary review of a fantastic novel! Great discussion on her use of time--yea, that definitely really guides the reader without them feeling overtly "pulled along". It's feels really effortless, as does your own amazing writing! Great stuff, made me recall how much of an impact this book had on me when I read it probably ten years ago now.


Gaurav s.penkevich wrote: "Extraordinary review of a fantastic novel! Great discussion on her use of time--yea, that definitely really guides the reader without them feeling overtly "pulled along". It's feels really effortle..."

You've been kind, always, Steve. It was definitely a great book which comes as a pleasant surprise to me, for I was reading Spark first time. Th control she had on the narrative and the way she manipulated the characters to modify the narrative is second to none. I'm glad that this humble write-up has been able to prop up some of the memories from repository of time.


Gaurav Sh wrote: "Excellent write-up, I heard a lot about the author but haven't read her yet. This review of yours makes the book quite teasing, perhaps I would be reading it soon."

Thank you, glad to know that this humble write-up urged you to read Spark. She had been genius of a writer.


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