Hope everyone is off and running with this month’s book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark. This discussion will cover chapters 1 to 3 (pages 1 to 78 in my version). Shall we begin, class?
First off, let me say that, as a former English major AND a former major loudmouth in my former book club (rest its soul), this is a new experience for me. I’ve never reported in on a book without finishing it first (and, despite its small size, I haven’t reached the end of this one—I’ll start back on page 79 tomorrow). I usually like to reserve judgment until the very last word, so I am interested to see what my final thoughts (and yours!) are going to be when we discuss the rest of the story next week (May 20, for those of you keeping up).
That said, here’s what I am liking so far, in list form (in case you forgot—I love lists):
1. Everybody’s famous for something (i.e., the characters have memorable quirks). Sure, the book’s title is about Jean Brodie, but this story offers tremendously colorful details about each of its many characters. There’s Teddy Lloyd’s one arm. The way the girls wear their panama hats in Senior school. The serious sewing sisters. Sandy’s sudden launches into conversations with fictional or dead characters. Mary’s death in the hotel fire. And I particularly delight in the reminders of why each of the Brodie set is “famous.” My favorite reason: Monica’s “mathematics and anger.” (Why does the anger part make me sort of giggle?) What’s your favorite character detail—big or small?
2. It keeps going back to the future. This book seamlessly jumps back and forth in time, revealing future insight about a character and then present-day (or sometimes past) information, oftentimes all at once. It just zooms you ahead, then immediately pops you back, but not in a jarring way. For example, in the middle of Chapter 2, we spend lots of time as Miss Brodie and her set walk together through the Old Town section of Edinburgh, then suddenly we’re in a convent with future Sandy, who is now Sister Helena—a nun famous for an “odd psychological treatise” called “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace”—and then, boom, we’re back to the walk in Old Town for the rest of the chapter.
Spark seems to be dropping hints for us, letting us put the pieces of this puzzle together slowly. There’s always a peek into what’s going to happen to each character, but it’s always unexpected and never what you’d guess (Sandy, famous for her small eyes and vowel sounds, becomes a nun??). It keeps my brain on edge, and I like it. What has surprised you so far?
3. The judgment is still out on Jean. I’m still forming my thoughts on Miss Brodie herself; I’m trying to save that for the end. Truthfully, I don’t know how to feel about her yet: sad? Annoyed? That she’s before her time, or perhaps a victim of it? Is she conceited? Naive? What about you? What are your initial thoughts on Miss Brodie?
A few more things to think about:
What’s the significance of repeating the poem “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson? (THAT is an English paper dying to be written, although I can almost bet it already has.) Are the other poems offering insight?
What do you think about Miss Brodie’s fascination with Fascism?
Team Lloyd or Team Lowther?
Let’s open this discussion up. I’d love to hear your thoughts! We can chat down in the comments section on this page—then let’s meet again to talk about the rest of the book on Friday, May 20. Speak soon!
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