Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
At issue in this short novel are two competing notions of education: the nonconformist individuality of Miss Jean Brodie’s set and the team spirit and school loyalty insisted upon by Miss Mackay, the headmistress of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. The story is told in multiple time frames so that the girls of the Brodie set can reflect back from a mature perspective upon the events of their school days.
Brodie believes that she has entered her “prime” in 1930, and this perception influences her teaching, which becomes all the more idiosyncratic and personal. She ignores the standard curriculum and teaches her students about art, culture, and politics in line with her own proclivities. After the Brodie set graduates into the senior school, she has two of her favorites, Jenny Gray and Sandy Stranger, teach her Greek “at the same time as they learned it.” She has a passion for culture and knowledge.
In later life, after her forced retirement, Brodie admits to Sandy that she fell in love with Teddy Lloyd, the art master, but did not become his mistress because he was a married man. Instead, she had an affair with the music master, Gordon Lowther, a bachelor, in 1931. Miss Mackay and the moral Miss Gaunt, another schoolmistress, have their suspicions about this affair and encourage the sewing mistresses, Miss Ellen and Miss Alison Kerr, to serve as Lowther’s housekeepers, so as to spy on him. Eventually, Miss Ellen finds Brodie’s...
(The entire section is 682 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Miss Jean Brodie has six favorite pupils at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh: Monica Douglas, famous for math; Rose Stanley, famous for sex; Eunice Gardiner, famous for gymnastics; Jenny Gray, famous for her grace; Mary Macgregor, famously stupid; and Sandy Stranger, famous for articulation and notorious for her small eyes. The girls stand just outside the school, talking awkwardly with a small group of boys. They are sixteen and have been under Miss Brodie’s influence since they were ten. Miss Brodie approaches the group, dismisses the boys, and asks the girls to dinner so they can discuss the administration’s newest plan to force her resignation.
Mary, at the time of her death in a hotel fire twelve years later, will remember these years with Miss Brodie as the happiest of her life. At Sandy’s tenth birthday party, she and Jenny Gray write adventure tales using as raw material Miss Brodie’s memories of her fiancée, Hugh Carruthers, a scholar who was killed at Flanders in World War I (1914-1918). Such reminiscences often replace the English and history lessons Miss Brodie is supposed to impart.
Although the girls are fascinated by their science teacher, Miss Lockhart, Miss Brodie insists that art takes precedence over science. Miss Brodie’s first protégé, Eunice Gardiner, is an accomplished gymnast who will become a nurse and marry a doctor. Years later, Eunice will remember to put flowers on Miss Brodie’s grave...
(The entire section is 856 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Structurally, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is one of Spark’s simplest novels, focusing as it does on a single character’s influence upon those who are closest to her. The protagonist is Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher at a staid Edinburgh school. At first, she seems to be a highly sympathetic character because of her passion for teaching and her independence of spirit. Instead of merely drilling her students, she tries to develop their minds. Even her bitterest enemies cannot deny the fact that the small group of girls chosen to be her intimates, “the Brodie set,” seem to have a great deal of knowledge about music, art, history, political science, and current events. It would seem that these girls are indeed fortunate.
As Spark describes the gatherings of the Brodie girls, however, it becomes clear that Miss Brodie’s influence is not altogether benign. She expects the few girls whom she chooses from her class to be totally loyal to her alone throughout their time in school. She ridicules the concept of team spirit, so that they will have no other attachments in their later years, when they would normally be in other groups. Furthermore, she manipulates the girls by insisting that she can perceive their real identities and by assigning roles to them based on those arrogant assumptions. Thus, Eunice Gardiner is the gymnast, Sandy Stanger, the reciter of vowels, and Rose Stanley, the sexual specialist. It is obvious that, while Miss Brodie...
(The entire section is 602 words.)
Boys on bikes talk to five sixteen-year-old, fourth-form school girls, who are distinguished from one another by the way they wear their panama hats. These girls, along with one other, form “the Brodie set,” a select group formed six years before when they were Miss Brodie’s elementary-level pupils.
In their conservative 1930s Edinburgh school, Miss Brodie is known for teaching unconventional subjects. Her students have heard of “Mussolini, the Italian Renaissance painters . . . and the word ‘menarche.’” They count on their fingers, albeit quite accurately. Miss Brodie’s set has by now adapted to the more orthodox curriculum of the upper grades, but they continue to be connected to each other through their friendship to their former teacher, whom the headmistress and others find highly suspicious. Miss Brodie boasts that she is “putting old heads on [their] young shoulders,” and she affirms, “all [her] pupils are the crème de la crème.”
Miss Brodie’s set bears the imprint of their teacher and, like her, are famous, ostracized, and suspected of disloyalty. The set comprises Monica Douglas, a prefect and math expert; Rose Stanley, “famous for sex”; Eunice Gardiner, a “glamorous” swimmer and “spritely” gymnastics student; Sandy Stranger, “notorious for her small, almost nonexistent, eyes”; Sandy’s best friend, Jenny Gray, known for her elocution and plans to become...
(The entire section is 2150 words.)