Good Reading : September 2015
‘You will end up as a Girl Guide leader in a suburb like Corstorphine,’ she said warningly to Eunice, who was in fact secretly a racted to this idea ... The qualities of Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as a novel have been obscured by the popularity of the stage show and movie versions. Phrases such as the ‘crème de la crème’ have entered popular consciousness, without the sophistication of Spark’s overlapping purposes receiving the same recognition. From Miss Brodie’s chilling Jesuitical assertion – ‘Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life’ – through to the novel’s dark conclusions, Spark poses a ser ies of difficult questions about education, femininity, and authoritar ianism. The very allure and asper ity of Miss Brodie cut back into the elegant severity of Muriel Spark’s own style and artifice. For all the minor trappings of glamour, Miss Brodie’s deluded romanticising is matter for this novel’s inquiry into the author ity of Spark’s omniscient narrator. While maintaining an eminently readable narrative form, the novel is also as self-cr itical about its construction as any formalist could wish. The story overlaps a number of time frames and alter native perspectives, notably the retrospective judgements of different members of the Brodie set that pepper the novel.This provides hints as to the ultimate unfolding of the modest rise and nasty downfall of an inspiring but dangerous teacher, the eponymous Jean Brodie. Miss Brodie teaches her charges with a reductive but inspiring sever ity that verges on criminal propaganda for author itar ianism, molding them as her fascisti. Tapping into the strange sadomasochistic fantasies of pedagogical crushes and schoolroom sexual tensions, the novel works through the curiously ineffective consequences of this ‘education’ on the Brodie set, seen darkly through pupil Sandy Stranger’s eyes. Satirical comedy as political diagnosis, it brings the morality of teaching and storytelling into stark relief: a delight. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall is published by Pier 9, rrp $39.99. GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING SEPTEMBER 2015 36 OFF THE SHELF the prime of miss jean brodie If you’re looking for a good story, then the number of titles available can overwhelm you. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die will help you to narrow down your choices by presenting short introductions to some of the greatest stories ever told. The third in our series of extracts is from a modern classic, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, which has inspired a number of film adaptations and even a stage show. Lifespan | b. 1918 (Scotland), d. 2006 (Italy) First Published | 1961 First Published by | Macmillan & Co. (London) Stage Adaptation | 1966 Maggie Smith won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Muriel Spark’s quirky fascist-leaning teacher in the 1969 movie.