Friday, June 10, 2011
#36 - "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" by Muriel Spark
I found this to be a little bit of a different read. Spark tends to get to the point, which is probably why the book is so short. In a way, the style reminds me a little bit of Hemingway. Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at a girl's school in Edinburgh, in the early 1930's. She proclaims to be in 'her prime' and feels she can teach her students more than just the three R's. Hand-picking six students, who go on to be known as 'the Brodie set,' she thrives on making these girls 'la creme de la creme.' She takes the girls to many extra curricular activities, like the theatre, art shows and golfing. Slowly, a deep bond forms between teacher and students.
But through a series of prolepsis (a new word I learned meaning flash-forward), we learn that eventually, Miss Brodie will not only be dismissed from the school, but that it was one of the girls from her set that would betray her.
My first reaction to this book upon finishing it, was admittedly, that it was nothing special. A short little story about some girls in Scotland. It was an alright read, but nothing more. But the more and more I've thought about it, the more I've come to appreciate how clever the story is and how complex the characters are. Jean Brodie herself, at first seems to be nothing more than a rather confident young teacher, with a more liberal attitude than would be expected at the time. But as her betrayal unfolds, we realize that she is really quite 'a ridiculous woman' and perhaps not a very good teacher either. She manipulates and exploits her students for her personal and professional gain.
The students themselves also appear to be nothing more than typical ten year old children. But we learn about their growth and how Miss Brodie's unconventional teachings shape them as young woman. As they become more self aware, they begin to see things a little clearer. They slowly realize that Miss Brodie was not all she made herself out to be, and one even sets out to bring her down. In reality, it is Miss Brodie who brings about her own betrayal, but like the loud, obnoxious person at the office, who never understands why they always eat lunch alone, Miss Brodie seems genuinely confused as to who from her set would do such a thing to her, or why they would do it.
You can read TIME's original review from January 19, 1962 here.
I have started Richard Ford's 1986 novel, The Sportswriter. While there are a few Pulitzer Prize-winning novels from this list (9 to be exact), The Sportswriter shares a more unique distinction. Along with John Updike's Rabbit, Run, they are both books from The List, whose sequels were awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Updike won for both Rabbit at Rest and Rabbit is Rich, while Richard Ford won for his follow up novel, Independence Day.