Jan-Maat's Reviews > The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
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bookshelves: 20th-century, british-isles, novel, muriel-spark, fiction
Read 2 times. Last read October 16, 2018 to October 17, 2018.

A masterpiece.

Rather like The Girls of Slender Means you are strongly aware of the economical construction, the careful rocking of the narrative backwards and forwards in time so that you know everything that will happen in the story in advance. Yet this has an odd effect in maintaining and sustaining the narrative, you are shifted from wanting to know what will happen, to how it will happen, to why it will happen, from events, dear boy, events to psychology.

As I approached the end of this simple story about schoolgirls, sex and their teacher, I thought I had realised something clever about the teacher, only to find on page 120 one of the characters thought the same thought as I had had, but more economically. After I had finished the book, I then, in my typical dark and suspicious mode of thinking began to dourly realise that I hadn't probably thought that thought at all, rather it had been planted (view spoiler) by the author herself, which might be clever considering that she's dead (view spoiler).

This is to be expected, because this is a book about teaching and education, is education as the word implies, about leading forth, as one might lead a donkey up and down a beach, or is education about stuffing things into to the tender heads of young people? Naturally the author, who was not only Sparky but also witty and cunning does both. Actually this book makes me feel a bit sick, on bookshop shelves I see fat things, books that look to be half a tree thick, and here's this thing that's like an arrow. It could be shot through a shelf of over written tripe. I blame computers, in previous days when authors used manual typewriters and carbon paper, there was a real incentive not to type too much, just to spare your fingers.

Anyway, that's enough prattling, here is this terribly short book about schoolgirls, sex, teachers, education, God, and Fascism (not necessarily in that order). In which the author works on you by turns with a rasp or a hand plane. I read and think to myself "how was this done"? And I run my fingers over the page as though it was a cabinet, feeling for the joins. Anyway, read it if you have a care to.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 23, 2011 – Shelved
October 16, 2018 – Started Reading
October 17, 2018 –
page 102
79.69% ""From somewhere below one of the Lloyd children stated to yell, & then another, & then a chorus. Deirdre Lloyd disappeared with a swing of her peasant skirt to see to all her children. The Lloyds were Catholics & so were made to have a lot of children by force.""
October 17, 2018 –
page 114
89.06% ""He had confidence in Miss Lockhart, as everyone did, she not only played golf very well & drove a car, she could also blow up the school with her jar of gunpowder & would never dream of doing so.""
October 17, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-24 of 24 (24 new)

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message 1: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala When I read your carpentry image - which I love - it was as if I'd hit a snag in my memory. A vague recollection (from when I was reading DrJekyll and Mr Hyde) of an eighteenth century cabinet maker in Edinburgh by the name of Brodie who was a house breaker by night. I looked him up and found another cabinet maker also called Brodie, the father of the first. There's a web article about him entitled, The Prime of Mr Francis Brodie...and he had a daughter called Jean.
https://www.atthesignofthepelican.co....
Maybe you knew all this and that's why you mentioned cabinetry. Or maybe it's just a neat dovetail of coincidence.


message 2: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "When I read your carpentry image - which I love - it was as if I'd hit a snag in my memory. A vague recollection (from when I was reading DrJekyll and Mr Hyde) of an eighteenth century cabinet make..."

ah, ha - you are too smart for these games ;) Deacon Brodie was a cabinet maker and builder of gallows or maybe is deliberately or not misremembered as such, Jean Brodie in the book refers to him and his love triangle as her ancestor - she doesn't get hanged though just stabbed in the back et tu Brute as we are told in the first few pages.


message 3: by Eddie (new) - added it

Eddie Clarke Brilliant review, I can’t wait to read this now!


message 4: by David (new)

David Schaafsma Ah, must reread, thanks for the lovely nudge, great work!


message 5: by David (new)

David Schaafsma Fionnuala wrote: "When I read your carpentry image - which I love - it was as if I'd hit a snag in my memory. A vague recollection (from when I was reading DrJekyll and Mr Hyde) of an eighteenth century cabinet make..."
I love this, thanks.


message 6: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat David wrote: "Ah, must reread, thanks for the lovely nudge, great work!"

Eddie wrote: "Brilliant review, I can’t wait to read this now!"

thanks, go for it, it is only short!


message 7: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Marita wrote: "Delightful review!"

you're welcome


message 8: by Yefim (new) - added it

Yefim Another book added to my read list! Thanks, Jan-Maat!


message 9: by MihaElla (new)

MihaElla if you say it's a masterpiece, then you said it all and I go on your hand [hoping to read it] as I also like the value added 'economy' of it. but I'm too intrigued about the thought you thought or thought you thought, with or without the help of the author. in a non economical sense, what would that thought refer to?


message 10: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Yefim wrote: "Another book added to my read list! Thanks, Jan-Maat!"

Hope you enjoy it Yefim!


message 11: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Mihaella wrote: "if you say it's a masterpiece, then you said it all and I go on your hand [hoping to read it] as I also like the value added 'economy' of it. but I'm too intrigued about the thought you thought or ..."

ah that feels a bit involved to explain... one of the things that the teacher, Jean Brodie, does is 'predict' the future of her favourite pupils, this parallels (with a twist) the Calvinist theology of John Knox that God determined the lives and fate after death of everybody long before their births and that many people will be surprised after death - here the twist is that it is Jean Brodie herself who is surprised. I thought that my recognition of the parallel between Brodie and Knox was penetrating and clever...but I had been led to it :). A big theme is that Brodie like a Jesuit can shape the lives of the girls she teaches, so the reversals are important there, another running joke is that Brodie is prejudiced against Catholics and frequently says that they are not free to think what they please, but she herself is trying to determine the lives and thinking of the girls she teaches, but is none the less in the end surprised they all do what they want


message 12: by Hanneke (new) - added it

Hanneke What an enticing review, Jan-M. Goes straight to my TR list!


message 13: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Hanneke wrote: "What an enticing review, Jan-M. Goes straight to my TR list!"

happy reading Hanneke!


message 14: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Happy you consider it a masterpiece too, Jan-Maat! And Spark is indeed brilliant atplanting ideas in the reader that s/he thinks are her own - what power!


message 15: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Lisa wrote: "Happy you consider it a masterpiece too, Jan-Maat! And Spark is indeed brilliant atplanting ideas in the reader that s/he thinks are her own - what power!"

It seems Jan-Matt is good at planting ideas too. I thought the cabinet maker connection might have been an insight of my own only to discover that Jan had planted it in my mind on purpose:-)


message 16: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "Lisa wrote: "Happy you consider it a masterpiece too, Jan-Maat! And Spark is indeed brilliant atplanting ideas in the reader that s/he thinks are her own - what power!"

It seems Jan-Matt is good a..."


yes but the idea was dropped into my mind by the Jesuitical Jean Brodie/ Muriel Spark :)


message 17: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Lisa wrote: "Happy you consider it a masterpiece too, Jan-Maat! And Spark is indeed brilliant atplanting ideas in the reader that s/he thinks are her own - what power!"

Yes she is pretty terrible! One of the most calculating and cunning of writers


message 18: by MihaElla (new)

MihaElla Jan-Maat wrote: "Mihaella wrote: "if you say it's a masterpiece, then you said it all and I go on your hand [hoping to read it] as I also like the value added 'economy' of it. but I'm too intrigued about the though..."

Thank you very much Jan-Maat for sharing this extensive thought. I feel its essence is understood however, from other wording perspectives, it feels like a strong gust of uncertainty as I need to dwell by myself a bit on the words of “calvinist theology..” and “jesuit”. What better choice than a new reading. -)


message 19: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Mihaella wrote: "Jan-Maat wrote: "Mihaella wrote: "if you say it's a masterpiece, then you said it all and I go on your hand [hoping to read it] as I also like the value added 'economy' of it. but I'm too intrigued..."

It is not essential to the book, don't let that delay you in reading, the important thing is that the author converted to Catholicism, so there are layers of meaning and ideological or theological diferences


message 20: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Well, I had a care to read Miss Brodie the other day, and so I was glad to reread your review when it turned up again because when I came to the bit about the cabinet-maker in the novel, I half remembered the conversation we had here about Miss Brodie's ancestors. Nothing niggles quite like something half-remembered.


message 21: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "Well, I had a care to read Miss Brodie the other day, and so I was glad to reread your review when it turned up again because when I came to the bit about the cabinet-maker in the novel, I half rem..."

that cabinet making is almost too perfect, the shaping of raw timber into elegant cabinet, the carpentry association suggesting Christ and by extension the school girls as disciples. Spark was a bit of a cabinet maker herself, everything carefully chosen and suggestive


message 22: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Oh, yes, her cabinet is most impressive, which is why I've decided to review only a small part of it, a hidden part I've dreamed up, a secret drawer. But now I better go and gather up some more words to put in my secret drawer — I've only a few unpolished phrases in it at the moment. I may even have to reread the book, so, you know, I'm not holding my own breath on this.


message 23: by Jan-Maat (new) - added it

Jan-Maat Fionnuala wrote: "Oh, yes, her cabinet is most impressive, which is why I've decided to review only a small part of it, a hidden part I've dreamed up, a secret drawer. But now I better go and gather up some more wor..."

the secret drawers of Jean brodie? I am not sure she could have had secret drawers, she was living out life as publicly as she could :)


message 24: by Fionnuala (new) - added it

Fionnuala Well, Jenny used to keep her handkerchief up her drawers so there's no telling what Miss Brodie kept in hers.
But I was thinking more of Spark's drawers in any case.


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