Monday, January 26, 2015

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

When I borrowed The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark to read for a book discussion, I thought that I had not read it, despite having read a lot of Spark's books between 2004 and 2005. As I read and got halfway through the book, my memory had not changed, but I did go to my reading spreadsheet to remind myself what Spark's titles I had read. I discovered that I had read this book about the flamboyant teacher at a private girls school in 1930s Edinburgh. To the end, I still had no recall, which is strange because I think now that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is such a strikingly memorable book.

This short novel about Miss Brodie and her girls proved to be a great choice for a book discussion. We shared a great variety of interpretations and feelings about the teacher who was determined to shape the lives of her chosen girls. No one considered her simply well-meaning, but the degrees to which we judged her self-centered and sinister differed. She is a complex character, as is her student Susan Stranger (Spark was known for picking indicative surnames).

An interesting part of the discussion was comparing the book to the 1969 movie, which won an Oscar for Maggie Smith in 1970. The six girls were reduced to four, some of Miss Brodie's characteristics were exaggerated, and key facts were changed. If you have only seen the movie, you will be surprised how different the book is.

If you have not read any works by Muriel Spark, I recommend starting with a different book, either Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, or one of the short story collections. I will review her short stories in my next post. As good as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is, many readers will find more to like in other titles.

Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. J. B. Lippincott, 1962. 187p.

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