Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 2000
6 Pages, Grade: 15 Points
The comic novel “The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie” was written by Muriel Spark and was first published in the USA and Britain in 1961. It has also been adapted for the stage and as a film starring Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark was born in Edinburgh and has been creativly writing since 1950. She received numerous awards and prices for her novels, plays, poems and biographies.
The novel “The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie” is about the special relationship between six girls, the so called “Brodie set”, and their passionate, unconventional teacher Miss Brodie. In the autumn of 1930`s Miss Brodie, teacher at the Junior Department of Marcia Blaine School for Girls, takes over a new class. Soon the girls experience the unusual education methods of Miss Brodie, e.g. when she leads them into the school garden under a big elm for a history lesson. However instead of working with the history books she lets the girls use them as “alibis” whenever Miss Mackay, the headmistress, makes one of her rounds. Miss Brodie prefers to tell stories of her own past, e.g. of her engagement with a man named Hugh who later had been killed in the war. From now on the girls develop a great interest in Miss Brodie´s private life like e.g. Sandy Stranger and Jennifer Gray, two friends who have exciting discussion´s about the teacher´s sexual life.
In the sequel of the term Miss Brodie selects six girls for her “Brodie set”: Sandy Stranger who is popular for her small, almost non-existent, eyes, her nice vowel sounds and her tendency towards talking with imaginary people; Jennifer Gray is a born actress and furthermore is the prettiest and most graceful girl of the set; Monica Douglas, a girl which is famous for her outbursts of rage and her later developing ability of doing mathematics; Rose Stanley, who as a young girl is mostly interested in cars and will later be associated with sex; Eunice Gardiner, a small person, who is able to do spritely gymnastics and Mary McGregor the “black sheep” of the set, who is only known as a silent lump whom everybody could blame. This set experiences from now on a special attention of Miss Brodie, because she wants to make them the “crème de - la crème”. So she invites them to tea-parties in her flat and takes them into confidence about her private life and her feud with the headmistress. She wants the girls to profit of her “prime”, her best years which have now come. She takes them for long walks and shows them the other side of Edinburgh: The Grassmarket, where poverty and violence are normal sights. During these trips she explains them that her conflicts with Miss Mackay and the staff are due to her different opinion about education. After the summer holidays the new term starts. Miss Brodie still follows her old methods and tells her class about her summer holiday in Italy, where she met Mussolini and his fascisti, whom she admires very much.
One day Monica Douglas comes up with exciting news: She claims to have seen Miss Brodie and Teddy Lloyd, the art-master, kissing each other in the art-room. At first the rest of the set does not believe her, but after she affirms that she would tell the truth the whole set is occupied with this suspicion for the rest of the term. The events around Miss Brodie get more and more exciting, when she and Mr.Lowther, the singing-master, are both away from school at the same time because of an ailment and the set hears two teachers speculate about an affair between Miss Brodie and the singing-master. The story reaches its climax when Miss Brodie tells the girls after the easter holidays that she had spent her time in Cramond, the residence of Mr.Lowther.
After the summer the new term starts. The Brodie set attends now the Senior School. The first weeks the girls are overwhelmed by their new teachers and lessons. Miss Mackay now tries to get rid of Miss Brodie’s influence on the girls by breaking up the set. However the plan fails: It is true that she allocates them to different houses of the school, but the set strongly holds together and does not join in the competitve games between the houses. Furthermore Miss Brodie keeps on inviting them to her tea-parties and educates them in private. The following year the suspicions about the affair between Miss Brodie and Mr.Lowther prove to be true, although Jean Brodie herself never admits anything about the affair. However when she discovers that the bachelor Mr.Lowther keeps on getting thinner she suspects that his housekeepers do no proper work. So she decides to do the job on herself and is from now on to find every week-end at Mr.Lowther’s. In spite she does not forget her set and invites two by two of them to Cramond at Saturdays. During the following weeks she shows a deep interest in Mr.Lloyds art-lessons and questions the girls about it. The set is now often invited to Mr.Lloyd’s, who has recently discovered the perfect model for his portraits in Rose. Sandy accompanies her and keeps on criticising his pictures as to her mind everyone of them looks like Miss Brodie. One day Mr.Lloyd has enough of the criticism and kisses Sandy violently. First she is shocked, but the art-master makers her feel insecure by insulting her, so that she decides to say nothing about it to anyone.
The following time Miss Brodie searches for a girl in her set in whom she can confide entirely. At least she chooses Sandy due to her insight and furthermore Rose for her sexual instinct. The two girls are from now on the puppets in a game which she wants to play with Teddy Lloyd: Rose with her instinct and her sexual charisma is to start preparing to be Teddy Lloyd’s lover while Sandy, with her insight, is to act as the informant on the affair. However what Miss Brodie does not know is that the art-master’s interest in Rose is simply a professional one and the real instinct of Rose is to be a good model. So in the end it is Sandy who starts a passionate love affair with her art-master, who interested her all the time after the forbidden kiss.
In the following autumn the fatal change happens: Sandy is invited to have a conversation with Miss Mackay as every year. However this time Sandy has different feelings towards Miss Brodie: She has recently noticed the teacher’s preference for Fascism, which made her urge a young girl to join in the Spanish civil war to fight for Franco where it in the end was killed. So now she feels hatred for Miss Brodie and gives the headmistress the decesive hint about the teacher’s politics, which destroy Miss Brodie’s ‘”clean record”. So in the end Miss Brodie is forced to retire at the end of the summer term of 1939, on the grounds that she has been teaching Fascism. After this all the members of the Brodie set, including Sandy who later becomes a nun, keep in contact with Miss Brodie until her late years. However she never finds out who of her set betrayed her.
Characterization of Jean Brodie
Jean Brodie is the main character of the novel “The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark. This female teacher who lives in Scotland during the 1930’s owns a quantity of traits, which are a challenge for me to be dealt with in form of a characterization.
Jean Brodie is a middle-aged woman who pays much attention to her outward appearance. She is fond of her Roman profile, which distinguishes itself by her big brown eyes and her arched proud nose. She dresses her delicate body with elegant blouses and brown tweed coats. Her appearance changes after her retirement: She becomes more and more shrivelled and wears a long-preserved dark musquash coat. The suffering from an internal growth makes her look older and causes in the end her death at the age of 56.
Jean Brodie teaches in the Junior Department of Marcia Blaine School for girls. She says about herself that she is a descendant of Willie Brodie, “a man of substance, a cabinet maker and designer of gibbets, a member of The Town Council of Edingburgh (Page 88). With this origin she explains her economical sense and her ability to handle with money. One can observe from her personal course of life that she lived in the poor part of Edingburgh, the Grossmarket, when she was a student. Therefore she knows with which kind of problems the poor and unemployed people have to cope with, so that she feels sorry for them and prays for their sake. Another event that coined her life was the death of her great love Hugh, a scotish soldier who fell in the war. After that she has no lover for a long time and due to this she has the reputation of an “Edinburgh Spinster”.
Behaviour and Attitudes
The most interesting traits of Miss Brodie are expresses by her sometimes strange attitudes and her behaviour basen on these attitudes. A big part of Jean Brodie’s life consists of her activity as a teacher. However she has invented her own education methods. In spite of teaching the prescribed subject matters, she prefers teaching her pupils general knowledge with the help of her own life experience. With this method she wants to put “ old heads on your (the pupil’s) young shoulders”(P.8). This means that she wants the pupils to have the mind of an adult. To Jean Brodie “education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupils’ souls”(P.36). She wants to fill the children’s minds with new impressions and needs to destroy their former impressions. To be sure that the pupils really learn something during her lessons she is a bit severe. She wants to be attentioned and takes not listening to her amiss. For this reason her lessons are not always “easy-going” for the pupils. Especially the staff and the headmistress are against these unconventional education methods at their concervative school. So Miss Brodie’s struggles with the authorities on account of her educational system increase throughout the years. However she never resigns and believes that her methods cannot be condemned unless they can be proved to be improper or subversive. She keeps on pursuing her ideals against every kind of resistance.
In course of time Miss Brodie chooses a special formation out of her pupils, the so-called “Brodie set” consisting of six girls, each famous for a special trait. They get the benefit of her unusual education, which goes far beyond the lessons at school. She wants to make them the “crème de - la crème” by getting them not only general knowledge but her social values like e.g.:”Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first” or “Art and religion first; then philosophy, lastly science”. Furthermore she wants them to recognise their own talents and “ to grow up largely dedicated to some vocation”(P.62). The set plays a very important role for Miss Brodie, because they are the only ones she has confidence in ans she discusses all her problems with them. So one can say that there is a special relationship between Miss Brodie and her girls, which is based on her teaching them the most important things for life and on their “paying” her with their attention. Miss Brodie is convinced that “the girls are [her] vocation” and that “[she] is dedicated to [them] in [her] prime”(P.23). She considers her prime as the the best years of her life. However one can not say that Miss Brodie is the perfect teacher. Especially on the example in how she leads her set one can observe her preference for dictaotship. She wants to take possession of her girls as one can see in the following quotation: “Give me a girl at an impressible age, and she is mine for life”(P.9). Furthermore she considers only her own convictions as right and what she does not regard as humane of the girls concerns or what is not within the scope her influence, scorns her. Sandy, one of her set, thinks that Miss Brodie is like a dictator: It occurred 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 (…)”(P.31). The themeof Miss Brodie and her connection to Fascism is very important for her personal development, so it needs to be dealt with: Miss Brodie’s political attitude towards the actual italian government of Mussolini and his fascisti is very positive. She thinks of him as one of the greatest men in the world, who abolished un employment in Italy. She shows to her pupils pictures with marching troops of the Italian black shirts and to her mind “ the German brownshirts are exactly the same as the Italian black, only more reliable”(P.87). Unfortunately one of her pupils believes to much in Miss Brodie’s fascistic ideals: she runs away to fight for Franco in the Spanish civil war and gets killed in Spain. This makes Sandy think about her fascistic teacher and she decides to inform the headmistress about Miss Brodie’s politicals. So in the end these political ideals are her fate: she has to retire on the grounds that she had been teaching fascism(P.125).
Regarding her love affairs one can form judgements about Miss Brodie: a small positive one and a bigger negative one. First the one that says something for her: When she falls in love with Teddy Lloyd, the art-master, she renounces him because he is a married man. However she never really forgets him, even not when she enters an affair with Mr.Lowther, the singing- master. She goes to bed with him in a spirit of “martyrdrom” as she calls it herself and in the end she neglects him and hurts his feelings. However one can say that she did have little feelings for him, because she is taken aback and suffers a bit as for the engagement of Mr.Lowther and one of her colleagues. From that point on she takes new interest in Mr.Lloyd. However her intention is not good: she starts to plan an intigue with the help of two girls of her set: First she looks out for a girl in whom she could trust entirely and chooses Sandy due to her insight and furthermore Rose for her sexual instinct. Rose’s function is to start a love affair with Teddy and Sandy shall report everything to Miss Brodie. She justifies this intrigue as follows: “I am his (Mr.Lloyd’s) Muse, but I have renounced his love in order to dedicate my prime to the young girls in my care. I am his Muse, but now shall Rose take my place”(110).
How others see Miss Brodie
Miss Brodie is a woman who is understandably held in great suspicion. As many different traits she unites in herself, as many advocates and opponents she has.
For example Eunice says years after she was one of the set, that she liked Miss Brodie, because she was full of culture and knew exactly what she did. Mr.Lloyd is after all the years that passed after his affair with Jean not able to escape from her attraction. So that all his pictures have something of her in them.
One of her great opponents is Miss Mackay who would rather see her dead than alive. And in the middle stands Sandy, who on the one hand feels hatred for Miss Brodie’s Fascism, but on the other hand says that she took the greatest influence on her.
At least it is interesting what the narrator says about Miss Brodie: He claims that there exists a whole kind of Jean Brodies in the 1930’s. He definites them as vigorous daughters of merchants, ministers and doctors with shrewed wits, high-coloured cheeks, constitutions like horses, logical education, hearty spirits and private means. He claims that they crowd their war-bereaved spinsterhood with voyages of discovery into new ideas and energetic practices in art, social welfare, education and religion. To his mind they are great talkers and feminists, who are not static and keep on learning throughout their whole lives.(P.42/43).
The “Observer”says “A brilliant psychological figure” about Miss Brodie. I agree with it, Jean Brodie owns such a quantity of traits that I could have written twenty pages about her. She is such a conflicting personality that it is nearly impossible for me to build up a clear opinion about her. On the one hand I am fascinated by some of her unconventional ideals, which are exemplary for the 1930’s, but on the other hand these ideals colide with her politics, which are not a sign of intelligence. However the fact that she is not the perfect teacher makes her more believable. She has also a lot of defects which may sometimes count more than her good sides, e.g. when she acts like a little dictator with her set. However she wants the best for her pupils and tries to teach them as much of her own experiences as possible to prepare them for life.
To come to an end: I think that I already met some teachers like Miss Brodie during my career at school. They may not have been exactly like Miss Brodie with her extremes and defects, but they something of her unconventional spirit and her education methods. As far as I can say now, I will always have fon memories of these teachers, because they helped me with my personal development and helped to create the person that I am today.
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