The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

“Miss Brodie’s special girls were taken home to tea and bidden not to tell the others, they understood her private life and her feud with the headmistresss. They learned what troubles in her career Miss Brodie encountered on their behalf. ‘It is for the sake of you girls – my influence, now, in the years of my prime.’ This was the beginning of the Brodie set.”

Six girls at a Scottish school in the 1930’s form “the Brodie set”, the group of favorites specifically chosen by the most interesting teacher at their school. Miss Brodie is charming, well-traveled, literate, passionate, and has an opinion on everything. The girls who form her set spend their time, from ages ten to eighteen, idolizing Miss Brodie and being influenced by her in almost every way. But all of these girls will go on to live very different lives, and one of them will betray Miss Brodie. The book follows their school careers, from ages ten onward, and shows us how one of those girls came to admire, love, and then betray her teacher. It’s also an amazing character study thanks to Miss Brodie, an endlessly fascinating figure. She’s funny and brilliant, but she’s also manipulative and foolish. Also she’s a fascist. Like, literally a fascist – she gives her girls lots of speeches about how Mussolini is improving Italy, and convinces one girl to run away to Spain to fight for Franco.

I liked this book a lot more than I expected it to – although, who doesn’t love vicious backstabbing schoolgirls? Reading this book, I could see its influence reaching all the way to modern times. It reminded me of, among other things, The Secret History, The Lake of Dead Languages, most of Margaret Atwood’s books, A Great and Terrible Beauty…the list goes on. The book is about more than just a bunch of schoolgirls growing up. It’s about passion, friendship (superficial and otherwise), the disappointment of seeing your idols as mere human beings, and the constant need to belong:

“It occured to Sandy…that the Brodie set was Miss Brodie’s fascisti, not to the naked eye, marching along, but all knit together for her need and in another way, marching along. That was all right, but it seemed, too, that Miss Brodie’s disapproval of the Girl Guides had jealousy in it, there was an inconsistency, a fault. Perhaps the Guides were too much a rival fascisti, and Miss Brodie could not bear it. Sandy thought she might see about joining the Brownies. Then the group-fright seized her again, and it was necessary to put the idea aside, because she loved Miss Brodie.”

As an ending note, has anyone seen that movie Cracks that came out recently? I need some more vicious schoolgirl antics in my life, and I was wondering if it was worth seeing. Thoughts?

Verdict: four out of five stars


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