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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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on 9 August 2001
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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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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on 17 August 2001
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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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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on 7 August 2008
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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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 10 November 2015
This is a short novel that is well written with a very nice turn of phrase. It focusses on a small group of school girls in 1930s Edinburgh, who are the favourites of eccentric teacher Jean Brodie, and the influence their teacher has over them during their teenage years. It is an engaging, enjoyable book to read with nice descriptions and is never overwritten. The pace is good although it does dot about in time a bit which can be slightly annoying.

As someone who well remembers manipulative teachers during my own school days - much more recent than those here - I found it particularly fascinating. I suspect most people will remember one teacher or another who was particularly popular with the pupils and had their own favoured few. Whilst not abusive in the conventional sense, the emotional impact on both the 'special set' and on those excluded from it, can be very significant. So it is interesting to see a book that explores this, especially from so many years ago, when I might have thought this a more modern problem.

Brodie herself is a fascinating and in many ways pitiable character, although some of her actions are very dubious. Her attempts to live her life through the young women she teaches are tragic, both for her and for them. Although saying that, this is not a melodramatic or heavy going book. It is actually very understated and controlled. I felt it played out in a way that was realistic and I liked that we got to see what became of the girls in their adult lives - and how some of them continued to reminisce about her decades later.

I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading as it is not a long book, is easy to read, and is one of those novellas that manages to say a lot without using many words. I think it would be great reading for teenagers, especially girls, but boys too, who may recognise a teacher of their own and thus relate particularly strongly to this story.
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on 10 December 2012
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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on 18 April 2010
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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on 4 July 2010
This book was a quick read but an enjoyable one, and is far more than a typical school story. There was a slightly sinister edge to the story at times, as Miss Jean Brodie attempts to direct the thoughts and actions of her 'set' of girls to transform them into the 'creme de la creme', but as the book progresses we see her assertion 'Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life' both develop and fail spectacularly. The main narrative following the Brodie set at school is cleverly interwoven with brief exerpts from the girls' futures, allowing the reader to see how the girls will develop and transform through the influence of their teacher.

Throughout the book, the narrative style is witty and humorous, and statements are written in such a way as to allow the reader to tell immediately whether they are from the perspective of the girls or the teacher. A great deal of this reminded me of my own experiences at the girls' school I attended, and so I often found myself smiling as I recognised things that we did or thought. I can see how this book would make an excellent film, and I'll definitely look out for it.
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