Friday, November 27, 2009

A Woman in Her Prime

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at an Edinburgh day school in the 1930s and is best explained on page 62: There were legions of her kind during the nineteen-thirties, women from the age of thirty and upward, who crowded their war-bereaved spinsterhood with voyages of discovery into new ideas and energetic practices in art of social welfare, education or religion. The progressive spinsters of Edinburgh did not teach in schools, especially in schools of traditional character like Marcia Blaine's School for Girls. It was in this that Miss Brodie was, as the rest of the staff spinsterhood put it, a trifle out of place... it goes on in for another three pages...

Miss Brodie is a woman in her prime, full of new and unconventional ideas, hemmed in by the conventional and conservative school. She admires Mussolini. She takes a lover. She has great passion for the arts. She is forever under suspicion from the headmistress who constantly looks for things to use against her. She takes five girls under her wing and they form the Brodie set, girls that she holds close all through their years at the school and that she attempts to mold in her own image. One of them will betray her.

What we get is a darkly (and subtly) funny character study of a woman who is convinced that she is in the prime of her life and invincible. The narration jumps all over the place in terms of time, but never in a confusing way. We know what the girls will do in bits and spurts and find out slowly how they get there. Spark reveals one piece of the mystery of the betrayal and one piece of each character as a whole, slowly building complete characters and plot into completion. Along the way, she explores loyalty and manipulation.

I initially wanted to read this because Jenny Davidson mentions it in the back matter of The Explosionist (are we getting a sequel to that any time soon?!), and then it appeared on the list of 1001 Novels to Read before you Die and the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels to Read Before You Die.

It's a wonderful story with hidden depth. I've been puzzling over it and thinking over it for quite some time before I was able to write this review. It seems rather basic (although the unlinear narration was a novelty at the time of publication) but the depth of the character study, and not just for Miss Brodie, but for many of the girls in her set, comes out upon further reflection.

Book Provided by... my local library

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Care said...

and may I recommend the movie! It's very well done. :)

Jennie said...

I'm glad to hear it! Also, Dame Maggie Smith! Who doesn't love her? I must add it to my Netflix queue.

Jenny Davidson said...

EXPLOSIONIST sequel is INVISIBLE THINGS, I am just finalizing copy-edited manuscript and it will be out in fall 2010 - glad you liked the Spark novel!

Jennie said...

Huzzah! I can't wait for it! Thanks for letting us now, and thanks for planting the name of this in my brain, so that it caught my eye on other lists!