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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling narrative by Geraldine McEwan
I was twelve when I met Miss Jean Brodie for the first time. I have encountered her many times since, on the page and on the stage, but our introduction has stuck in my mind. It was one of those 'Sunday Tea-Time' series at which British television once excelled. With hindsight, I realise that Muriel Spark's novel was not the sort of fiction that could be cut into...
Published on 17 Aug. 2001

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
We are an elderly book group and had all read and enjoyed the book and the film many years ago. Reading it now it came over as dated and rather flat. It would be interesting to know how young people reading it for the first time rated it.
Published 16 months ago by M Smith


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparkling narrative by Geraldine McEwan, 17 Aug. 2001
By A Customer
I was twelve when I met Miss Jean Brodie for the first time. I have encountered her many times since, on the page and on the stage, but our introduction has stuck in my mind. It was one of those 'Sunday Tea-Time' series at which British television once excelled. With hindsight, I realise that Muriel Spark's novel was not the sort of fiction that could be cut into convenient slices, each one impressed with a cameo of one of the 'Brodie Set', to be consumed within a not too demanding forty minutes. Nevertheless, the series made an impact, not least because the rôle of Miss Brodie was played by Geraldine McEwan. Despite the inappropriate medium of a weekly drama series, she impressed viewers as the definitive Jean Brodie. Ms McEwan has essayed the part many times since then and never fails to impress her stamp and cut on Muriel Spark's Edinburgh schoolmistress.
Geraldine McEwan is the perfect choice of narrator for this unabridged audio edition of the novel. Believe me, an abridged version of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is not "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"! Muriel Spark, interviewed by Frank Kermode, once referred to 'vulgar chronology', contrasting her own method of telling a story with strict realist convention. Spark's preference for anachrony refines her tale of school life into a highly technical fusion of post-modernist form and religious theme tinged with great wit. It is this Sparkian technique, from which Ms McEwan draws out the smallest nuances, that forbids any cuts in the text.
Geraldine McEwan's reading of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" introduces the schoolmistress in 1936, surrounded by her notorious 'Brodie Set' of sixteen-year-old girls over whose lives and relationships she seeks almost divine ordinance. A few pages on, the narrative shifts backwards to 1930, inviting the listener into the company of a younger Miss Brodie and her class of impressionable girls of ten. This initial anachrony is a common enough technique. However, as we advance through the narrative all the way to 1939 when the 'Brodie Set' are young women of eighteen or nineteen, their schooldays behind them, Spark's skill becomes increasingly apparent. Her sequence of fourteen forward glances and fourteen backward looks builds into a subtle composition of the 'Brodie Set' in childhood, adolescence, and adult life.
Ms McEwan is a careful reader of this cool, calm, and collected narrative in which prolepses never render the text predictable but stage subtle surprises as we move beyond the main story of 1930 to '39 to shift back and forth across a time-span of three decades. Early in the novel, we meet a middle-aged, comfortably married Eunice sharing childhood memories with her husband and planning to visit the grave of her one-time schoolmistress. This extraordinary narrative movement, shuttling us forward in order to look back, hints at the style of Miss Brodie's impact. The memento mori is to be combined with the Edinburgh Festival. The schoolmistress, for all her desire to play God in her pupil's lives, inspired both love and a love of the arts. This section of the book is also among its most poignant as the listener hears how Miss Brodie's retirement was involved with a personal tragedy, that she has been 'betrayed' by one of 'her girls'. It is much later that we are thrust towards 1939 to discover the identity of the teenaged traitor. Geraldine McEwan is at her best is putting across the matter-of-fact quality of the revelation which, nonetheless, urges the listener to pay far greater attention to the perspective of the character in question since we realise that our understanding of the novel hinges on her understanding of Jean Brodie. At the same time, previous incidents are given an ironic tinge, often taking on considerable import because we possess an 'authorial omniscience' with respect to Miss Brodie's betrayal.
The question Spark perpetually evokes through her use of anachrony is not 'What happens next?' but 'Why will this happen?'. Miss Brodie is without doubt culpable in her desire for an omnipotent and omniscient rôle in the lives of her pupils. Nevertheless, as Spark highlights her awareness that omnipotence and omniscience are attributes of God alone, attributes necessarily stolen from the 'author of life' by authors of conventional realism, she rejects the absolute moral stance of the realist tradition. Neither her text nor Geraldine McEwan's reading offer a singular moral perspective on the betrayal of Jean Brodie but leaves us free to make our own judgement from the knowledge anachrony has granted. Listeners to this audio book, aware of how emerging patterns repattern the past, patterns which the realist writer more usually disguises, are left to question whether an absolute past is, perhaps unknowable and therefore beyond judgement. 'I don't claim that my novels are truth', insists Muriel Spark, 'they are fiction out of which a kind of truth emerges....I keep in my mind that...I am writing...fiction because I am interested in truth-- absolute truth.'
This is a recording to which many listeners will wish to return again and again, each time gaining fresh insights into the personalities of Miss Brodie and her girls, the subtle narrative technique of their creator and the consummate story-telling skill of Geraldine McEwan.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Returning in my prime, 7 Aug. 2008
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This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Was inspired to read Miss Brodie - for the umpteenth time - by seeing the film again on television last week. The first time I read this book, I was about the same age as her pupils ... now you might kindly describe me as in my prime! (Like Miss B, I'm not quite sure how long prime lasts!)
This is a book I have enjoyed more each time I have read it. Spark's wonderful spare writing and dry observation (Whatever possessed you? said Miss B in a very Scottish way, as if Sandy had given away a pound of marmalade to an English duke ... )
Of course, she is a silly, preposterous, dangerous woman, but you know you would have wanted to be chosen as one of her girls. But this reading I grasped how her tragedy was rooted in World War I, that she was
part of that generation of vigorous post-war spinsters who espoused causes instead of men. How different her life would have been had Hugh, her first pure love, not died on Flanders field ...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Short Novel, 24 July 2010
By 
Herman Norford "Keen Reader" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I have seen television films of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and never really enjoyed them. Yet over the years I had heard that the novel is a masterpiece. Having at last got around to reading the novel, I can see why I did not enjoy the films of the book and equally why it is considered a masterpiece. In respect of films it would take a great director to capture the nuance and subtly of the novel. It is the hints, the suggestions, the great leap backward and forward in time that, with their powerful revelations, makes Muriel Spark book a great novel.

The setting is mainly Marcia Blaine Academy in Edinburgh. The time is mainly the early 1930s although the narrative moves back and forth in time. The characters that perform the action and drive the plot are the Brodie set - six girls coming into puberty and of course Miss Jean Brodie who is in her prime which for her covers a long period of years.

In a short novel of about 128 pages, Muriel Spark ingeniously manages to convey quite a lot about human behaviour. In effect the Brodie set is like a very small institution or community where the politics of gaining the upper hand and position is played out. Furthermore, the intrigues of the Brodie set are fascinating to read. For example, it was Rose who modelled for the art master, Mr Lloyd, and was expected to sleep with him but instead it turned out to be Sandy who slept with him while Rose conveyed the news to Miss Brodie who was keen for one of her set to sleep with Mr Lloyd as a means of sex by proxy.

As the narrative flash forward in time it brings members of the set together years on from the period that it focuses upon. This device allowed members of the set to meet in mature years, look back clarify and confirm for the reader what occurred or not in the past. The flash forwards also gave powerful meaning to the constant refrain, "I am in my prime" or "the prime of her life." We suddenly get a sense of the urgency and importance of each moment in our lives.

If there is a universal theme running through the novel it must surely be the importance of capturing and doing the things in life one wants to do before one is past their prime. Beyond that the novel is about loyalty, and I suppose the inevitable betrayal. It questions the role of religion in life. There is a line that runs: "The Lloyds were Catholics and so were made to have a lot of children by force." Indeed, it could be said that Miss Brodie is a leader of six disciples. And let's not forget that one of the important issues that the novel addresses is sexual awakening.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short but powerful novel that punches above its size. Nearly fifty years after its first publication, it is still worth reading as it has something to tell us about contemporary life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark subtext delivered with light touch - Spark sparkles!, 28 July 2013
By 
This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I've recently read a few books which have been compared to this on because the subject matter is similar: the effect on the young and impressionable made by a charismatic, rather shady teacher. And rather found myself thinking `comparisons are odious' as the later books seemed variously overwritten or self-indulgent, or desperately trying to shock for shock's sake, heavy-handed or crude.

it was an absolute delight to return for a re-read to the book those others were compared to - Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

This of course was turned into a film with Dame Maggie Smith as Miss Brodie, but I remember little about the film which I'm pretty sure pops up on TV from time to time, other than Dame Maggie, yet re-reading the book my memories were strong.

What I particularly appreciate is Spark's economy. Books often seem to be getting longer and longer, often for no good reason, and I find myself longing for someone to have slashed and cut writing which can seem indulgent.

This is almost novella, rather than novel, length, yet jam packed with telling image and incident. Spark's mind is glittering and incisive, her love of, and mastery of, language evident in each clean sentence: nothing fussy, nothing fudgy, a sense of an author who can weigh and balance her sentences almost as if they had a precise poetical form which needed to be adhered to. A sense of discipline and craft to counterpoint fine imagination and dark wit.

Her style is interesting, certain telling phrases get repeated and repeated in the text, almost like a mantra, as we move back and forwards in time between the little girls, meeting Miss Brodie as 10 and 11 year olds, jumping forwards and backwards to various incidents in the rest of their schooldays, sandwiched between future snapshots of what they will become as adults, and back again, moving also between Miss Brodie in her Prime, to a failing and elderly Miss Brodie, not in any linear progression, more as if all times and all becomings are always present, child and adult all together.

There are psychologically disturbing visions - the book is set in Edinburgh in the early 30's, and Brodie's feverish, strange world view not only encompasses artistic passion and sensibilities but is also more darkly attracted towards a fascination with the Fascists in Italy and Germany, as well as some rather shocking attempts to manipulate the budding sexual identities of her girls.

Somehow, Spark's ability to be witty and light touch about all this, rather than heavy handedly telling the reader what to feel, is a brilliant balancing act
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Muriel Spark in her prime!, 9 Aug. 2001
By A Customer
Muriel Spark, interviewed by Frank Kermode, once referred to 'vulgar chronology', contrasting her own narrative techniques with strict realist convention. It is Spark's preference for anachrony that refines this story of school life into a highly technical fusion of post-modernist form and religious theme tinged with great wit.
"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" introduces the Edinburgh schoolmistress in 1936, surrounded by her notorious 'Brodie Set' of sixteen-year-old girls over whose lives and relationships she seeks almost divine ordinance. A few pages on, the narrative shifts backwards to 1930, showing the reader a small cameo of the Miss Brodie and her class of impressionable girls of ten. This initial anachrony is a common enough technique. However, as we advance through the narrative all the way to 1939 when the 'Brodie Set' are young women of eighteen or nineteen, their schooldays behind them, Spark's skill becomes increasingly apparent. Her sequence of fourteen forward glances and fourteen backward looks builds into a subtle composition of the 'Brodie Set' in childhood, adolescence, and adult life.
Spark writes a cool, calm, and collected narrative in which prolepses never render the text predictable but stage subtle surprises as we move beyond the main story of 1930 to '39 to shift back and forth across a time-span of three decades. Early in the novel, we meet a middle-aged, comfortably married Eunice sharing childhood memories with her husband and planning to visit the grave of her one-time schoolmistress. This extraordinary narrative movement, shuttling the reader forward in order to look back, hints at the style of Miss Brodie's impact. The memento mori is to be combined with the Edinburgh Festival. The schoolmistress, for all her desire to play God in her pupil's lives, inspired both love and a love of the arts. This section of the book is also among its most poignant as the reader learns how Miss Brodie's retirement was involved with a personal tragedy, that she has been 'betrayed' by one of 'her girls'. It is much later that the Sparkian narrator thrusts us towards 1939 to reveal the identity of the teenaged traitor. The revelation is quite matter-of-fact but we now pay far greater attention to the perspective of the character in question since we realise that our understanding of the novel hinges on her understanding of Miss Brodie. At the same time, previous incidents are given an ironic tinge, often taking on considerable import because we share the narrator's omniscient knowledge of Miss Brodie's betrayal.
The question Spark perpetually evokes through her use of narrative anachrony is not 'What happens next?' but 'Why will this happen?'. Miss Brodie is without doubt culpable in her desire for an omnipotent and omniscient rôle in the lives of her pupils. Nevertheless, as Spark highlights her awareness that omnipotence and omniscience are attributes of God alone, attributes necessarily stolen from the 'author of life' by authors of conventional realism, she rejects the absolute moral stance of the realist tradition. Her narrative offers no singular moral perspective on the betrayal of Jean Brodie but leaves us free to make our own judgement from the knowledge anachrony has granted. Spark's readers, aware of how emerging patterns repattern the past, patterns which the realist writer more usually disguises, are left to question whether an absolute past is, perhaps unknowable and therefore beyond judgement. 'I don't claim that my novels are truth', insists Muriel Spark, 'they are fiction out of which a kind of truth emerges....I keep in my mind that...I am writing...fiction because I am interested in truth-- absolute truth.'
"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is a novel to which many readers will wish to return again and again, each time gaining fresh insights into the personalities of Miss Brodie and her girls, and the subtle narrative technique of their creator. To readers who are looking for an academic analysis of this novel I recommend the commentary included in "Revolving Culture" by Angus Calder.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'There were legions of her kind', 28 Oct. 2004
By 
DAVID BRYSON (Glossop Derbyshire England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
By now I'm sure that Miss Jean Brodie and her prime are better known from the film than from the original novel. The film, and the absolutely wonderful stage production that preceded it in London with Vanessa Redgrave as the first Brodie, caught one side, the caricature side, of Muriel Spark's immortal creation, but the story is a more complex matter altogether, short though the book is.
Any story by Muriel Spark is complex up to a point - her way of thinking is devious and unstraightforward and her characters tend to inhabit the moral and motivational lowlands. Insofar as they seem like real people at all rather than clever animations, her attitude towards them is usually ambivalent. Indeed it's almost fair to say that she makes her feelings for her own creations clearest, and expresses them most strongly, when those feelings consist most of repugnance, as with Patrick Seton and Father Socket in The Bachelors. Nevertheless she always seems to distance herself successfully from their general squalor through her quick wits and the dazzling speed at which she keeps rearranging the scenery.
This book has a lot of the familiar Spark 'feel' to it, but it's a bit different in some ways too. It's short, but it doesn't come across to me as a lightweight effort like The Abbess of Crewe. The cast of characters is not as large as in The Bachelors or The Ballad of Peckham Rye, but it's large enough. What makes it simpler is that it consists largely of a group of juveniles on the one hand, and on the other it is absolutely dominated by one single outsize personality, maybe the nearest to a true heroine or hero that Spark ever allowed herself. Jean Brodie is a silly woman but not a mean or corrupt one and that, in a novel by Muriel Spark, is quite something not to be. Another thing that may have softened the author's stance is that the setting is not London or the east side of Manhattan or Crewe or any other foreign clime, but her own native Edinburgh. I don't suppose she is trying to conceal her affection for it (although being who she is she doesn't indulge it either), or if she is she has failed at that. I can recognise the kinds of people and the kinds of attitude through a similar if not identical background, and it has brought out a most unusual candour in the author. At the start of chapter 3 there is a very straightforward account of the kind of Edinburgh spinster that Jean Brodie exemplifies. Spark typically springs it on us who it was that 'betrayed' Miss Brodie, but once she has done so she takes us through the person's thought-processes with a most untypical clarity. The book shuttles backwards and forwards through time-frames, but this time with a sheer naturalness that conceals the cleverness of it. There is even a rare glimpse into the author's fascination with Catholicism when she discusses Miss Brodie's semi-ecumenical religious interests. Above all the typical spurts of sarcasm and ridicule are more often funny than bitchy, not the other way round as is more usual from her.
A taste for Muriel Spark is a bit of a mini-religion itself. This book might make her a few converts.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Pride of Miss Jean Brodie, 11 Aug. 2014
By 
Bacchus (Greater London - Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This is an enjoyable short read. I remember the famous movie with Dame Maggie Smith but am pleased to have finally got round to reading the book, which has a number of fundamental differences with the film version.

The most interesting thing I found about the book is the style of narrative. The story of Miss Brodie's "Prime" is told in retrospect. The events occur in the 1930s while the girls whose lives are dominated by Miss Brodie are looking back at these days from a vantage point 20 years on when they have marriages and careers. The plot's ending is frequently telegraphed and so no suspense is really built up. The interest is in the how and why events unfurled rather than the actual story itself.

The book is set in Edinburgh. I have always enjoyed my visits to that city and have always felt that I am going back in time when I visit it and I always feel that in many ways I am visiting a foreign country. The atmosphere and landscape of the city are beautifully evoked.

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher in the junior department at a private girls day school in Edinburgh. Miss Brodie is colourful, freethinking and unconventional, things that make her a figure of great suspicion among the straight-laced female teachers of the school but a figure of fascination for the two male teachers. Among her students she takes especial interest in six girls who enjoy her confidences. They are the Brodie set who don't entirely fit into the general run of school whom she refers to as the "Creme de la creme." Although she thinks she has a kind of Jesuitical hold over their development over the years, it is clear that she does not and one of them becomes the source of her downfall. I won't spoil it for anyone by telling anyone what it was but it proved a fascinating read.

I enjoyed the book very much and it provided a lovely breezy read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miss Jean Brodie and her Ambiguous and Long-Lasting Legacy, 10 Dec. 2012
This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short yet incredibly dense novel. Lucidly told, the deadpan prose creates some shocking and unforeseeable moments. Muriel Spark's toying with chronology, and the cunning employment of prolepses, upsets the conventional linearity of her story. A character can be introduced and brutally killed off within a few pages, their life gradually rebuilt via the narrator's various hints and disclosures. It is a ruthlessly clever methodology and one that unavoidably absorbs the reader in the vicissitudes of the Brodie set.

Jean Brodie is a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, Edinburgh, and she is resolutely in her prime. She has handpicked a group of pupils and indoctrinated them into her progressive 1930s ways, a move which raises the ire of her peers and marks her out as an unconventional and seditious element. Each of her girls is defined by a certain talent she will ultimately exploit. Almost immediately, we are told that Brodie was betrayed by one of her own set, but which girl was it and why? And so, as the narrative unfurls, the temporal shifts allow an acknowledgement of the facts but not of their correct order, the re-sequencing of which is the reader's primary task.

This drip-feeding of information is a sophisticated narrative device and Spark uses it tellingly. Unpalatable details about Brodie slowly surface, and she comes to be seen as a flawed and pernicious individual, a reprehensible dupe and duper. The central tenets of her philosophy (Goodness, Truth and Beauty) cannot be reconciled with her political sympathies, nor can her intransigent belief in the need for individuality be equated with her faith in homogenising ideologies. That such a complex character can be created in so brief a book is a wonder, the ambivalence the reader feels for Brodie revealing the nuance in Spark's creation.

It is, however, a very funny book, its humour dark and understated. It also questions ideas and ideals. As Candia McWilliam says in her Introduction, the novel's thematic content covers 'sex...war, cruelty, betrayal, and, most of all, religion', but it doesn't groan under the weight of these heavy topics. It uses them, rather, to subtly illuminate the paradoxical prime of Miss Jean Brodie and her ambiguous and long-lasting legacy.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spark a surprise, 18 April 2010
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This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book.The subject matter, a middle-aged, eccentric, Scottish spinster teacher and her small coterie of pupils should not have appealed to an elderly English male and the book has little by way of conventional story- and Miss Brodie is not even likeable! However, the author captures in a masterly fashion the changes wrought by time: the girls growing up (and their fascination with sex); the changing religious and political attitudes; mens' fickleness and unreliability; and the realisation, by some of the girls, that Miss Brodie's opinions were superficial, and, therefore, transient.
I will read more by this author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 19 July 2013
By 
S Riaz "S Riaz" (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This is a deceptive novel, which contains a story of depth and scope despite it's short length, and which I have returned to many times. The plot concerns the unconventional schoolteacher, Miss Jean Brodie, who seeks to influence a chosen group of schoolgirls - the so called 'Brodie Set'. Much of the novel is relayed through the eyes of Sandy Stranger, who enters Miss Brodie's class in 1930, and becomes a confidante of the teacher.

Miss Brodie virtually wages war on the school; as the embattled headmistress, Miss Mackay, attempts to reign in her disturbing influence on the girls and find a way to force her to resign. It is true that Miss Brodie tends to tell the girls about her ideas and love affairs, rather than drilling them in facts, but they are still the 'creme de la creme' and her belief is in, her version, of 'goodness, truth and beauty'. This is, in many ways, a disturbing read, as Sandy looks back on her life as a schoolgirl as one of the elite 'Brodie set' and muses on her ultimate betrayal...
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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Penguin Modern Classics) by Muriel Spark (Paperback - 24 Feb. 2000)
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