19 June 2006

Some preliminary thoughts on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Slaves of Golconda's next read is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and discussion starts June 30th. See here and here for those participating and more info. (Yes, there. Scroll down past the World Cup posts for Slaves info, then scroll back up & read 'em!). I'll post more at the end of the month and after I finish reading 'The Only Problem' for extra credit. But here are some preliminary thoughts:

I love this description at the beginning of Chapter 3:

The days passed and the wind blew from the Forth.

It is not to be supposed that Miss Brodie was unique at this point of her prime; or that (since such things are relative) she was in any way off her head. She was alone, merely, in that she taught in a school like Marcia Blaine's. 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. But she was not out of place amongst her own kind, the vigorous daughters of dead or enfeeble merchants, of misisters of religion, University professors, doctors, big warehouse owners of the past, or the owners of fisheries who had endowed these daughters with shrewd wits, high-coloured cheeks, constitutions like horses, logical educations, hearty spirits and private means. They could be seen leaning over the democratic counters of Edinburgh grocers' shops arguing with the Manager at three in the afternoon on every subject from the authenticity of the Scriptures to the question what the word 'guaranteed' on a jam-jar really meant. They went to lectures, tried living on honey and nuts, took lessons in German and then went walking in Germany; they bought caravans and went off with them into the hills among the lochs; they played the guitar, they supported all the new little, theatre companies; they took lodgings in the slums and, distributing pots of paint, taught their neighbours the arts of simple interior decoration; they preached the inventions of Marie Stopes; they attended the meetings of the Oxford Group and put Spiritualism to their hawk-eyed test. Some assisted in the Scottish Nationalist Movement; others, like Miss Brodie, called themselves Europeans and Edinburgh a European capital, the city of Hume and Boswell.

They were not, however, committee women. They were not school-teachers. The committee spinsters were less enterprising and not at all rebellious, they were sober church-goers and quiet workers. The school-mistresses were of a still more orderly type, earning their keep, living with aged parents and taking walks on the hills and holidays at North Berwick.

But those of Miss Brodie's kind were great talkers and feminists and, like most feminists, talked to men as man-to-man. (pages 40-41)

That this is the start of the third chapter must have been a deliberate decision by Spark. Not only does this give a wonderful description of Miss Brodie, it also puts into context the school and the other spinster school teachers. Although the preceding chapters also start with a descriptive narration, this is more detailed, longer. It sets the a different tone, in a way, and is a pivotal chapter in the book.

Interesting how the main qualities of each girl is repeatedly told in the first few chapters. Also what became of them. This isn't true with Sandy, the main character and Brodie's betrayer, although the reader does learn that she became a nun. By the time you know that Sandy is her betrayer, it isn't news. Interesting -- is this meant to be a mystery of sorts? I think more likely that the author is just being very judicious about revealing too much about Sandy before she is ready to reveal her as the betrayer.

The narrative makes many jumps in time. Although the main portion of the story takes place in about 7 years, it makes reference to events over a 30 year period. Spark does this skillfully, jumping back and forth from a few years earlier, to many years later.

Spark converted to Catholicism mid-life, but before this book was written. Sandy becomes a Catholic in the book and the conversion is portrayed as a larger betrayal, or repudiation, of Miss Brodie. Yet, the actual conversion is not covered in any detail. This reminded me of the conversion of Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, which I also read recently. Not that the conversion is the same, but that it is matter-of-factly revealed to the reader. A less careful reading of the book would suggest that Sandy credits, in a positive way, Miss Brodie with her conversion and subsequent inspiration for her book on psychology and faith, but I think a careful reading is that Miss Brodie's lessons showed the way not to be. But how much like Jean Brodie is Sandy?

"Sandy felt warmly towards Miss Brodie at those times when she saw how she was mislead in her idea of Rose. It was then that Miss Brodie loked beautiful and fragile, just as dark heavy Edinburgh itself could suddenly be changed into a floating city when the light was a special pearly white and fell upon one of the gracefully fashioned streets. In the same way Miss Brodie's masterful features became clear and sweet to Sandy when viewed in the curious light of the woman's folly, and she never felt more affection for her in her later years than when she thought upon Miss Brodie as silly." (page 109)

"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life." (p 110).

Was Sandy just like Jean Brodie? Did she become the antithesis of her? Or merely her in just another form. Regardless, she was influenced by her, and in a way very different from the other girls in the Brodie circle.

I will need to think more regarding these quotes and how Miss Brodie folded the story of her love for Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Lowther into her tale of her dead lover from WWI. And how this parallels Teddy Lloyd's paintings of the Brodie girls so that they all looked similar to Jean Brodie.

I saw the movie on television when I was in my early teens. I recall Maggie Smith's elegant portrayal of Jean Brodie. I also recall distinctly my mother telling me to turn off the tv, admonishing me to not watch 'such crap'. It's been over 30 years since I saw the movie, but I think the religious aspect is downplayed, if it is even there at all. I can't imagine what my mother's objection was. Perhaps that Miss Brodie liked the Fascists? I was too young I think to understand the movie; I remember thinking that Miss Brodie was admirable because she was an intellectual, interested in her 'girls' learning about love, art, and politics. I was too young to realize that she was a control freak and how misguided her views on politics and art were.

1 comment:

Sylvia said...

"Was Sandy just like Jean Brodie? Did she become the antithesis of her?"

After Sandy is a nun she has this conversation:

"The influences of one's teens are very important," said the man.
"Oh yes," said Sandy, "even if they provide something to react against."

Why don't you come and join the conversation at MetaxuCafé?