CBR Bingo – People. The cover of the edition I read has silhouettes of the main characters under a tree.
Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short but fantastic novel about a schoolteacher and a small group of girl students known as the Brodie set. Miss Brodie is an unconventional, independent teacher with definite ideas of how the students should behave and what they should think. She exhorts the girls to comport themselves with dignity while oversharing about her love life. She is strong-willed and impressed by fascists such as Mussolini. She is overbearing, romantic, and dependent on the Brodie set’s love for her.
The students under Miss Brodie’s spell are a diverse group, with most of the narrative focusing on Sandy, a girl with “small piggish eyes” who lives a rich fantasy life. While Sandy initially starts out as a devotee (and interestingly ends as one by becoming a nun), she maliciously betrays Miss Brodie to the headmistress due to a growing resentment and feeling of superiority over Miss Brodie. Spark conveys all this with acid wit and unsentimental style.
There is a passage that provides a glimpse into Miss Brodie’s nature:
“[T]here was nothing outwardly odd about Miss Brodie. Inwardly was a different matter, and it remained to be seen, towards what extremities her nature worked her. Outwardly she differed from the rest of the teaching staff in that she was still in a state of fluctuating development, whereas they had only too understandably not trusted themselves to change their minds….There was nothing Miss Brodie could not yet learn, she boasted of it. And it was not a static Miss Brodie who told the girls, “These are the years of my prime. You are benefitting by my prime.”
After she is forced to retire, Miss Brodie becomes obsessed with who betrayed her among the set. Initially she tells Sandy she is completely exempt, as Sandy has no reason to get back at her for anything. But in the end, before she dies, she settles on Sandy. When they are older, one of the set tells this to Sandy, who responds, “It is only possible to betray where loyalty is due.” The other says, wasn’t Miss Brodie due loyalty? Sandy responds, “Only up to a point.” Yet in the end Sandy admits Miss Brodie, in her prime, was the greatest influence on her when she was a student.