Top critical review
rather overrated and unlikeable characters
on 16 August 2017
This very short (130 pages) novel tells of the relationship between the title character, a teacher in a Scottish junior school in the 1930s, and the particular group of six girls she takes under her wing. It's probably most famous for Maggie Smith's Oscar winning performance in the 1969 film version. She was well cast for the role of this stubborn and headstrong teacher who wants to open up the minds of the girls in her "Brodie set" by telling them of her own experiences in life and love, which she thinks will be a more valuable education that the traditional knowledge-based curriculum favoured by her headteacher Miss MacKay who believes that "culture cannot compensate for lack of hard knowledge". Miss Brodie's view of curriculum priorities is: "Art and religion first; then philosophy; lastly science. That is the order of the great subjects of life, that’s their order of importance”. She favours a child-centred approach: "The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion, from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and the stem trudo, I thrust". Yet with these attitudes comes political naivety: she is a firm admirer of both Mussolini and Hitler and how they have transformed their countries. She is suspicious of collective attitudes: "Phrases like ‘the team spirit’ are always employed to cut across individualism, love and personal loyalties”; decries progressive schools as "crank" schools, and berates the future teachers her young charges will have in senior school as "all gross materialists....they all belong to the Fabian Society and are pacifists". Overall Miss Brodie is an opaque and contradictory character and I found it hard to understand what made her tick; her pupils are also mostly unsympathetic characters and there were no really likeable characters in the story. For me this is rather overrated.