Dolors's Reviews > The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
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bookshelves: read-in-2016
Recommended to Dolors by: Memories of my particular Miss Brodie

“The prime of Miss Jean Brodie” takes us back to the Edinburgh of the thirties. School mistress Miss Jean Brodie has selected six of her students to take as confidants. These girls will be the recipients of Miss Brodie’s unorthodox education that includes fictionalized versions of her love affairs magnified by her need to prolong her “prime” as much as possible.
The resulting story revolves around the complex, humoristic and even a bit extravagant relationship that Miss Brodie develops with her girls, who grow up under the shadow of their teacher’s frustrations and contradictions: quite liberal in certain areas, Miss Brodie’s radical conservatism shows in her admiration for fascist ideals. Caught in the swirling emotions of her overly dramatized romances, Miss Brodie underestimates the powerful influence she has over the lives of these impressionable young women that will lead one of them to betray her trust.

Besides the not so original plot, what resulted more fascinating to me is the technique through which Muriel Spark unfolds the personalities and the outcome of the characters. Many of the transcendental events are revealed in flash forwards that recur in a pattern of descriptive attributes of the already adult women, so the reader knows from the beginning what the future will have in store for the Brodie set: where will Rose’s magnetic sexuality lead her? Or Mary Macgregor’s clumsiness? Or Jenny’s natural beauty?
Nevertheless, the life experiences of these girls are irrelevant to the escalating dramatic tension of the narrative, where a somewhat cruel humor takes the stage and the eccentricity of Miss Brodie, whose emotions remain hidden from the reader and are only glimpsed through the girls’ perspectives, boosts to create a memorably ignoble character whose passion for life exceeds her manipulative nature. In the end, Miss Brodie’s blessing turns into her curse: she is condemned to live her life through her young surrogates and loses control of her own destiny.

Quite a peculiar little book.
Sharp, incisive and vibrant, it can easily deceive because of its apparent lightness and slightly comical undertone, but the somewhat veiled, subversive facet of Spark’s artistry won’t leave any reader indifferent, for Miss Brodie’s dilemmas and dirty secrets are, after all, our own.
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Reading Progress

October 10, 2016 – Shelved
October 12, 2016 – Started Reading
October 12, 2016 –
page 104
81.25% ""Just as an excessive sense of guilt can drive people to excessive action, so was Miss Brodie driven to it by an excessive lack of guilt.""
October 13, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-40 of 40 (40 new)

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Ilse Lovely trip down memory lane, Dolors, and a great reminder I should read more by Muriel Spark. Meeting evil female characters like Miss Brodie is at once refreshing and, as you so eloquently put it, leaves us questioning our own behaviour and mistakes.


message 2: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda Oh my, so you had your own Miss Brodie. Not so sure I, or for that matter, either of my daughters, would want to be included in her special group of six. Still, you make it sound like a great read.


Helle Great review, Dolors, and you capture so well the excentric mix of this book: deceptively simple, yet troubling; superficially a cute little story but something dark and subversive lurking under the surface. What are the motivations for Miss Brodie, do you think? I have only read this one by Muriel Spark and would be curious to see where else she has gone, seeing as this is so peculiar. I wonder if you've seen the film adaptation with Maggie Smith? I haven't for some reason, but it can surely only be great with her in the title role.


Dolors Ilse wrote: "Lovely trip down memory lane, Dolors, and a great reminder I should read more by Muriel Spark. Meeting evil female characters like Miss Brodie is at once refreshing and, as you so eloquently put it..."

Thanks for reading, Ilse. This was my first novel by Spark and I sometimes was reminded of the grotesque humor so typical of the Southern Gothic authors like Flannery O'Connor. Spark's prose is less flowery though, maybe more contained, more contemporary, but not less distressing... A good cautionary tale that provided food for thought, I intent to continue exploring other of her novels in the future as well.


Dolors Arah-Lynda wrote: "Oh my, so you had your own Miss Brodie. Not so sure I, or for that matter, either of my daughters, would want to be included in her special group of six. Still, you make it sound like a great read."

Heh, I did have a teacher in first grade who had a special circle of her favorite students, but she was an angel in comparison to Miss Brodie! Now that I think back, with the distance that years and maturity provide, I realize she probably discriminated certain students in favor of others, and that of course, wasn't right, even if I never considered that when I was a child...
As I said, Spark is a genius providing food for thought and drawing the blurry line of moral dilemmas. Thanks for reading Arah-Lynda!


Dolors Helle wrote: "Great review, Dolors, and you capture so well the excentric mix of this book: deceptively simple, yet troubling; superficially a cute little story but something dark and subversive lurking under th..."

I haven't watched the film, Helle, and this was also my first novel by Muriel Spark. I was shocked as well as I saw the evolution of the relationship between the girls and Miss Brodie. The flash forwards were also disruptive and added a contemporary touch to the more classic content of the story.
(view spoiler)


message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Insightful, dynamic review, Dolors. I probably would have started nitpicking on not so original plot instead of appreciating the nuances.


message 8: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Loved this review, Dolors. I've been meaning to read this for ages and have added it to my Christmas wishlist. Thanks.


Dolors Waqas wrote: "Insightful, dynamic review, Dolors. I probably would have started nitpicking on not so original plot instead of appreciating the nuances."

Heh, I guess I value form over plot, and Spark is a real artist when it comes to building up a not so original story... Thanks for reading and for your unfaltering support, Waqas.


Dolors Katie wrote: "Loved this review, Dolors. I've been meaning to read this for ages and have added it to my Christmas wishlist. Thanks."

Hope you enjoy it, Katie. I am trying to read more female authors and I am glad I discoverd Muriel Spark!


Agnieszka Great review , Dolors . I’ve been curious that novel for years so thanks for familiarizing me with its subject . And I agree of course that everyone had probably met some Miss Brodie , more or less sinister , in own life .


message 12: by Florencia (last edited Nov 16, 2016 06:17AM) (new)

Florencia The lack of originality of a plot surely can be overcome when the writer excels at describing their characters, endowing them with a strong personality, creating connections between them and ourselves. Wonderful review! Thanks for reminding me of this author; I'll have to meet her soon.


Dolors Agnieszka wrote: "Great review , Dolors . I’ve been curious that novel for years so thanks for familiarizing me with its subject . And I agree of course that everyone had probably met some Miss Brodie , more or less..."

Glad to manage to shed some light, Agna. I knew virtually nothing about the plot when I started the book, but was most surprised by Spark's style. Incisive, darkly humorous and very nuanced. Hope you like it if you ever decide to give it a try!


Dolors Florencia wrote: "The lack of originality of a plot surely can be overcome when the writer excels at describing their characters, endowing them with a strong personality, creating connections between them and oursel..."

You just said it, Flo...and so precisely! I had never read anything by Spark and I was positively surprised by her piercing style. At the beginning of the novel it reads like an Enid Blyton, but as the story advances there is a dark undertone, which is also comical, that grips the reader and doesn't let him go...
Thanks for taking the time to read my musings, once again, my dear friend! :)


message 15: by Sam (new) - added it

Sam Sounds like a interesting, character driven read: thanks for a new rec, Dolors!


Dolors Sam wrote: "Sounds like a interesting, character driven read: thanks for a new rec, Dolors!"

That's exactly it, perfectly summarized Sam! :)


message 17: by Seemita (new) - added it

Seemita Miss Brodie sure sounds spunky yet oddly morose in life, something than can be said about almost all mortals, right? A splendid review, dear D! The dynamics of human behavior within and outside one's self emerges as the key essence of Spark's works. And I'm glad to be able to view an author I have had waiting on my bookshelves for long through your vivacious, inquisitive eyes. Such a pleasure to bask in your words, my friend... it has been long :)


message 18: by Himanshu (new) - added it

Himanshu Ah, interesting. Talking about unorthodox education, I just read To Sir, With Love, where an ex-military black guy tries his hand at becoming a teacher in an unconventional school of a bunch of rogue kids. It is bemusing to read the parallel here of the kind of relationship Miss Brodie had with her pupils. I'm sure you can imagine. And yes, your words once again sweep this review up with awesomeness. :)


Dolors Seemita wrote: "Miss Brodie sure sounds spunky yet oddly morose in life, something than can be said about almost all mortals, right? A splendid review, dear D! The dynamics of human behavior within and outside one..."

So great to read your own analysis, Simi, because you get to the core of things and turn them inside out for us to better interiorize them. The psychological factor is not obvious in the introductory pages of the novella, it's only when the non-linear timeline becomes evident that the reader realizes Spark is no classic storyteller, that she creates her own rules. I want to read more of her works, and I will beam the day you decide to write about her. Welcome back, Simi...your words always bring the sun and warmth in spite of the bitter cold of this November morning!


Dolors Himanshu wrote: "Ah, interesting. Talking about unorthodox education, I just read To Sir, With Love, where an ex-military black guy tries his hand at becoming a teacher in an unconventional school of ..."

Interesting parallel, Himanshu! Funny that Miss Brodie was labelled as a liberal, modern teachter, but that didn't prevent her from controlling the lives of her circle of students and shaping them according to her particular political and cultural ideas. So, quite an education based on military inclined values in the end!
Thanks for stopping by, it's always sheer bliss to hear from you, Himanshu.


message 21: by Deea (new)

Deea While reading this review, I had the feeling the story was familiar. Then I remembered: there is this really good movie with Eva Green which has a pretty similar theme (although at some point it starts to be different: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1183665/f... ; after checking though, the writer of novel used for this film is another person). Have you seen it? It's quite good and there is a character who comes from...Spain (María Valverde). On another note, another impressive review by Dolors!


Dolors Deea wrote: "While reading this review, I had the feeling the story was familiar. Then I remembered: there is this really good movie with Eva Green which has a pretty similar theme (although at some point it st..."

I haven't watched that film, so thanks for the link, Deea, I will try to find it. There is a classic film adaptation of this novel starred Maggie Smith that I also have pending to search for.
I wonder how the directors will capture the deceptively humorous tone of Spark's storytelling, because there's something truly discomfitting underneath the comical, fast-paced narrative...
Thanks as always for pointing out something to complement my thoughts and add what's missing to make the round and complete, dear Deea! :)


Dolors Marita wrote: "A very nice trip down memory lane, Dolors, for which I thank you. I read this many years ago."

Glad to rekindle your memories, but only if they are good and sweet, Marita! :)


message 24: by Margitte (new)

Margitte Wonderful review, Dolors. And quite an enticing book for me, since I was in a girl school and loved it many years after the fact. While being there I considered it a concentration camp in Siberia :-))

This will be a perfect entertaining read for me, I know. Thanks for your delightful introduction to this book.


Dolors Margitte wrote: "Wonderful review, Dolors. And quite an enticing book for me, since I was in a girl school and loved it many years after the fact. While being there I considered it a concentration camp in Siberia :..."

Heh... yours is the perfect comment, Margitte. Sparks knows how to balance nostalgia with the tragedy of being young, gullible and impressionable and finding its comical side without underestimating the marks these young years can leave on people. I hope this novel entertains and disquiets you in equal measure, as it did to me! :)


message 26: by Ted (new) - added it

Ted Thanks for this review, Dolors - I'm pretty sure I would like the novel. I've seen the movie with Maggie Smith and loved it.


Dolors Ted wrote: "Thanks for this review, Dolors - I'm pretty sure I would like the novel. I've seen the movie with Maggie Smith and loved it."

Then I have to watch the movie, Ted, many of our common GR friends have recommended it to me. Hope Spark's incisive puts a disquieting spell on you as it did on me. Thanks for reading, Ted!


Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ Spark is indeed a wonderful writer!


Dolors Carol ♛ Type, Oh Queen! ♛ wrote: "Spark is indeed a wonderful writer!"

Glad you think so, Carol! I want to read more by her.


message 30: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Your reviews are always so elegant and polished, Dolors. This one reminded me of the novel, The Woman Upstairs, a book that I liked very much. I'd love to find the movie if it starred Maggie Smith!


Dolors Carol wrote: "Your reviews are always so elegant and polished, Dolors. This one reminded me of the novel, The Woman Upstairs, a book that I liked very much. I'd love to find the movie if it starr..."

Do you know what, Carol? I started reading The Woman Upstairs last night, before reading your comment!!!
Talking about serendipity. Messaud's prose is so straightforward and incisive that I can't stop reading (and I had promised myself I would write a review today!)


message 32: by Carol (new) - added it

Carol Dolors wrote: "Carol wrote: "Your reviews are always so elegant and polished, Dolors. This one reminded me of the novel, The Woman Upstairs, a book that I liked very much. I'd love to find the mov..."

Great! I'll have to circle back and search for your review. I had such an emotional reaction to that woman's story.


message 33: by Jibran (new)

Jibran Thanks for the instructive review, Dolors. I've heard good word (from here and there) about Muriel Spark's stylistic inventions and her rather non-conventional way of creating point of views that intrigues me very much. Miss Brodie's character seems like a good example of her style, if not the plot, which reminded of The Dead Poets Society.
Your review came as a reminder that I need to read her as soon as I wrap up my current engagements.


Dolors Jibran wrote: "Thanks for the instructive review, Dolors. I've heard good word (from here and there) about Muriel Spark's stylistic inventions and her rather non-conventional way of creating point of views that i..."

Thanks a lot for reading and for getting the highlights of what I meant to convey in my review, Jibran. Spark's stories might not be ground-breaking, but her style is certainly unique, somehow between Flannery O'Connor and the sophistication of classic character portrayal. The Dead Poets Society is a good connection, but the role of the mentor borders the morally dubious in this case, making the short tale quite disturbing and the heroine, difficult to forget...


message 35: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Dolors, great review!


Dolors Many thanks for taking the time to read, Greg!


message 37: by Yara (new)

Yara Lamrini Hello , Dolors I want ask you please about the novel the prime of miss jean brodie.
Can you explain the political aspect !
The relationship with the girl in dealing with the girls she was adapting fascism ?and why she define her self european not british please answer me in the fastest time.


Dolors Yara wrote: "Hello , Dolors I want ask you please about the novel the prime of miss jean brodie.
Can you explain the political aspect !
The relationship with the girl in dealing with the girls she was adapting ..."


Well Yara, the political aspect is very subtle but it undermines the whole narrative. Miss Brodie doesn't impose her ideas (which by the way are very superficial and romantic, not based on historical knowledge or research) on her girls, but she rather lives her ideals through them, through youth in a more abstract way.
The reader might dislike Miss Brodie's doings with the girls or her political preferences but in the end one can't help feeling sorry for the poor woman, who in the end is both victim of self-delusion and betrayal... Hope you can make something of my response!


message 39: by Tara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tara Bloomin' well written review!!!


Dolors Thanks a bunch Tara!


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