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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

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Author: Muriel Spark / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 05 April 2012 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd / Title: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie / ISBN 13: 9780241956779 / ISBN 10: 0241956779

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      23.01.2012 11:15
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      Takes you back to the 1930`s

      Many years ago I can remember watching `The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie` as a series on TV, so when I saw this book for sale in my local charity shop I decided to buy it.I can remember Miss Brodie being a schoolmistress with a slightly dodgy accent in the series and I remember that I enjoyed each episode and always looked forward to the next. The book did not disappoint me as I could not put it down once I started reading it. I think you can get so much more from a story when you read it as a book than you can from a TV series or a film.
      The story is set in an all girls school in the early 1930`s with Miss Brodie being an unusual teacher in that she does not teach `by the book` but uses her own methods to teach her girls , mostly by talking about herself and her own experiences.The girls are 11 years old when the story starts and this is the age that Miss Brodie likes to start training her girls as they are at an impressionable age.The story is mostly about her favourites , her `creme de la creme` as she puts it, who are a group of six girls who are all different in their own ways. The girls become good friends amongst themselves but are not popular with the other pupils (but teacher`s pets never are).
      We follow the girls through their adolescence, from primary school where they first come under Miss Brodie`s spell , through senior school (still under her spell) and we find out what happened to them as adults.Despite their unusual education the girls manage to do well in school and pass their leaving exams.This is much to the distaste of Miss Brodie`s old headmistress who tried for years to get her sacked.
      I found this book to be funny and entertaining.It also had a hidden history lesson in the story with references to the events that started World War Two,social history of the time when the girls went to Miss Brodie`s home, they had to walk through one of Edinburgh`s worst slum areas where the girls were not normally allowed by their parents to go.The girls felt threatened in the slum , not liking the strange smells, having young boys shout obscenities at them and watching queues of men shuffling ,smoking dog ends and coughing outside the dole office. There is also reference to The Great War when Miss Brodie uses her experiences as a history lesson for the girls, miss Brodie lost the love of her life in the trenches as did many thousands of other girls at that time.This lead to a shortage of men and this is reflected in the story as the staff of The Marcia Blaine School were made up of several middle aged spinsters and one bachelor (the music teacher), so you can imagine the problems this poor chap encountered.
      I am glad I found this book and I will be looking out for more Muriel Spark (the author) books in the future.

      Useful website/blog http://mybookblog-millie.blogspot.com/

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      16.01.2009 01:29
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      A classic

      "Little girls! I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders, and all my pupils are the crème de la crème. Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life."

      Miss Jean Brodie is a woman the prime of her life and she seeks to share the knowledge she has learned over the years with her pupils at the Marcia Blaine School for girls in Edinburgh. She hand picks six pupils to be part of her inner circle of trust and these girls Sandy, Rose, Eunice, Monica, Jenny and Mary become known as The Brodie Set.

      Jean Brodie lost her fiancé in the First World War but unlike other spinsters of her time she has devoted her life to learning about travel, art and culture. She scorns normal subjects like mathematics, after all who needs to know how to calculate the diameter of a circle when the girls need to know about truth and beauty. Miss Brodie has two love interests, Gordon Lowther the singing master, a bachelor who she refuses to marry and her true love Teddy Lloyd, the one armed art teacher who is married with six kids.

      Jean Brodie's unconventional teaching methods and private life gain disapproval from the stern headmistress Miss Mackay who probes the girls with questions about their teacher looking for evidence to sack her, which girl in the end will betray Miss Brodie?

      Jean Brodie is a strange character, a person who we can admire for her eccentricity, strength of character, ability to stand up to those in authority and being ahead of her time in her thinking and liberated sexuality. At the same time she is also stubborn, manipulative, unkind and a supporter of Hitler and Mussolini. She often infuriates with her obstinacy and arrogance and the way she uses the people around her.

      We don't really learn much about the Brodie set individually, only Sandy with her small piggy eyes who later becomes a nun. It becomes clear that the picnics and outings to art galleries are a front and that Miss Brodie has her own plans for each of the girls, in a way she lives through them.

      The book sums up 30's Edinburgh perfectly and she opens up the privileged girls eyes to the city, people and world around them. I recognize some of the places mentioned in the book, it is hard to imagine that people were scared to walk down the Royal Mile in the 30's but I still wouldn't walk across The Meadows after dark. Some of the people are still recognisable; Morningside Ladies of a certain age are still characters in the city. The middle classes lived conservative lives with a very strict moral code but behind closed doors things were often very different.

      This is a book which I have read many times now but I never get bored of it. Muriel Sparks's precise style of writing means that the books 127 pages are an easy and absorbing read where the vivid characters jump off the page. It deserves its place as a modern classic and I'm sure it will be enjoyed by future generations.

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        05.07.2008 20:16
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        A great read.

        In my more youthful days (OK so they weren't that long ago) I took part in a lot of plays. I won't bore you with a reminiscent tale of my days as an actress but I will say that there was one particular play where I played a Scottish school teacher. My Scottish accent was complimented many times - I sometimes think too many.... Anyway, the point of the story is that Alex Went, who directed me in my many performances, commented that I would be first in line to play Miss Brodie if he were ever to produce a play of the novel. Having never read the book I never knew whether to take this as a compliment or not. Having now read the book, I am still unsure.

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        Plot
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        Miss Jean Brodie teaches at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. Teacher extraordinaire, she is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods, in her attraction to the married art master, Teddy Lloyd, in her affair with the bachelor music master, Gordon Lowther, and, most importantly, in her dedication to 'her' girls. Miss Brodie creates her own clique of girls whom she considers to be the 'crème de la crème' and takes it upon herself to mould these easily influenced girls into the young women of her choosing as she cheerfully tells them 'Safety does not come first. Goodness, truth and beauty come first.'

        But Miss Brodie's unconventional teaching methods are not popular with the other staff at Marcia Blaine School and in particular the headmistress, Miss Mackay who is determined to rid her 'traditional' school of Miss Brodie. And so Miss Brodie's prime is cut short when one of her own set betrays her, in more ways than one.

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        My Opinion
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        This book is definitely a 'classic' within English literature. Muriel Spark creates amazing characters that jump up at you from the page. The plot is well paced and the book is a pleasure to read. Whilst the story may appear quite simple on the surface, Spark does in fact approach some far more complex issues during the course of the novel, requiring the reader to think for themselves.

        Miss Brodie, although perhaps manipulative and outspoken in her praise for contemporary leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini, is an agreeable character. As a reader I sympathised with her and anger over being betrayed but I went to an all girls private school and perhaps can relate to the story and characters better than some readers.

        This is a bittersweet novel. Spark offsets humour against a more sinister storyline and, I feel, successfully creates characters that the reader can sympathise with.

        I found the novel a compelling read from start to finish and it comes highly recommended.

        As for how similar I am to Miss Brodie - I'll leave that for you to decide.

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        You can buy the essential Penguin edition for £4.79 from amazon or if you're lucky like me you might find the same edition, brand new for 50p from your local charity shop!!


        ***

        Previously posted on Ciao under my real name (eek!) of nicolemorgan.

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          17.10.2005 17:56
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          A Poignant Tale

          "Sandy, please try to do as I say and not as I do. Remember, you are a child, Sandy, and far from your prime."

          Dame Muriel Spark was born in 1918 and is the author of over twenty books. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is her best known work and has been adapted for theatre, television and film. It was first published in 1961.

          I first read and enjoyed this book at a similar age to the 'creme de la creme' in the book, and was most interested in the sex and love aspect to the story but also old enough to appreciate the humour. Re reading it as an adult was a completely different experience, but still an enjoyable and rewarding read. Spark writes as always with a dryness and depth and those who take her sentences at face value miss much.

          Miss Jean Brodie is a school teacher at The Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is outspoken, progressive, romantic and proud. She has her favourite 'set' of six girls - 'the creme de la creme', and is in her own unorthodox way, dedicated to their education, but not just in terms of academia. One of the things she talks about with her girls is her own love life. The author also explores attitudes toward religion through Miss Brodie who claims that 'only people who did not want to think for themselves were Roman Catholics'. Her teaching methods are opposed by other more conformist members of staff, but she inspires a deep loyalty in the girls, although one of them will turn against her. The book is set in the 1930's and has an authentic old fashioned feel. The school for girls in this novel was modelled after the girl's school that Muriel Spark herself attended in her childhood.

          The book is character driven and Miss Brodie is a superb creation. She is not a sympathetic character, today she might be called drama queen, but she holds your attention nonetheless because of her almost absurd self belief. She is the kind of person who would have great charisma and who you would want to be liked by, yet she also manages to be not very likeable at the same time. She loves to teach, to be admired, to feel special and she does it all with a ferocity of spirit that will surely end in her own destruction. We may laugh at Miss Brodie but we feel for her too.

          It's a short book at around 120 pages, but as you would expect with Muriel Spark it is quite complex and layered. It is told from different time frames which doesn't interfere with enjoyment of the book, but rather adds to it. If you only read one Muriel Spark book I would suggest this as a good choice.

          Product Details:
          Paperback 144 pages (February 24, 2000)
          Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
          ISBN: 0141181427
          Price: new and used from 3.50 at Amazon

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          She was a schoolmistress with a difference. Proud, cultured, romantic, her ideas were progressive, even shocking. And when she decided to transform a group of young girls under her tutelage into the creme de la creme of Marcia Blaine school, no one could have predicted the outcome.