The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Part Two

Hi, Bookies!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this month’s book, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark. This discussion will cover the second half of the book, chapters 4 to the end (pages 79 to 137 in my version). Let’s get started…

Okay, so, I’m one of those people with a rule about movies: If there’s a book attached to it, I have to read it before I see the flick. I find that a film is too influential; I am far too selfish of a reader to want to share my idea of what a story sounds and looks like with someone else’s cinematic vision.

That’s why I am glad I haven’t yet seen the film version of Jean Brodie from 1969. It stars Maggie Smith, who I am sure was a lovely Brodie (especially since she won an Oscar for her performance). But that’s all I know—or want to know. I’ve enjoyed letting my mind wander through its own pictures of Sandy’s squinty little eyes, Teddy Lloyd’s paintings that always resemble Miss Brodie, Sandy’s hands clenched on the convent bars, and Mr. Lowther’s Cramond home (as well as his growing waistline).

But now that I’ve finished the book, you can bet that I’ll be heading over to Netflix as soon as I complete this post so I can pop it in my queue. I liked Muriel Spark’s short story—a smart tale of growing up. She reminded us of how, when you’re 10, a figure like Miss Brodie can be fascinating, worthy of made-up stories with fictional lovers and dramatic plot twists—and more influential than we realize. She also reminds us that, as you grow into an adult, your eyes and ears change…and you slowly start to see the adults around you for what they really are (or, at least, what you think they are). Sometimes it’s painful; sometimes it’s a relief. Oftentimes it’s confusing, and most of the time it’s slightly disappointing (we are all human, after all). And it always becomes a reason to look at yourself and piece together the puzzle of who you’ve become, taking into account how those adults in your life have helped shape you along the way.

I agree with most of you who commented in our earlier discussion: Overall, Miss Brodie did not necessarily have the girls’ best interests at heart. What I think more, however, is that, even after the story’s conclusion, we still do not “know” Miss Brodie, and it’s hard for me to judge her or her actions completely. All we know about her is mostly what we’ve seen through the eyes of girls who are growing up—and we know that the young, inexperienced eyes in this case aren’t empowered to see her truth (even perhaps after they are adults). That said, it’s hard for me to form a full picture of the true Miss Brodie because our storytellers can’t form one either. (Perhaps we all just need to rent the movie?) Did your feelings about Miss Brodie shift during the course of the book?

I don’t know 100% whether to pity Miss Brodie or be intrigued, disgusted, or saddened. But I was left with a unsettling feeling for the nun/writer Sandy, who ends the book clutching the bars of her grille “more desperately than ever,” admitting that the biggest influence on her childhood was not literary, political, or spiritual, but Miss Brodie in her prime. This image reminds me of our earlier talk of “The Lady of Shalott,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Book Club-ber Renee commented that the lady in the poem can be likened to Miss Brodie “in the way that she is ‘cursed’ and cannot look directly out at the world; she has to look at it through a mirror’s reflection.” I’d agree with this, and also say that the lady represents Sandy as well—caught in her own prison of a convent, looking out at the world from afar. (Dina said that Sandy’s “gripping of the confessional bars while she is allowed to make contact with her few visitors makes it seem like [she] is in jail.”) Do you see any parallels between the life of Jean Brodie and the life of Sandy?

A few more things to consider before I go:

What do you think about the very little information we get on the girls’ parents (particular on Sandy’s)?

Were you, like me, completely stunned when we were suddenly slapped with the knowledge that Sandy, not Rose, had had the affair with Mr. Lowther? (Muriel Speak changed it all in that one paragraph! Smart, surprising writing.)

Would Sandy have still ended up desperately clutching the bars of a convent, even if Miss Brodie had not been in her life?

And P.S.: To answer one of my earlier questions about Team Lloyd or Team Lowther, I’d say I am Team Nobody. Honestly, they both basically grossed me out. (-:

Thanks to everyone for your comments and insight. You are truly the crème de la crème. Don’t forget to vote in the June book poll, which ends this Sunday at 11:59 p.m. ET!

—Amy

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