Comment on Muriel Spark’s handling of time in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Sparks, time is manipulated in order to demonstrate how Brodie's grand plans turn out.  In other words, rather than writing the work in strict chronological order, Sparks intersperses the present and future to see how Brodie's molding of her young set works out. 

The enotes Study Guide on the novel says the following:

The story is told in chronological order covering the period from the fall of 1930 to the summer of 1939, yet at certain points the story suddenly leaps into the distant future, revealing important information that, in a more traditional story structure, would be withheld until it occurs in chronological order. In this way, the present of the novel is seen in contrast to the future, through the lens of retrospect it is reframed and can be reinterpreted. One example of how this technique works is in the several passages which show the students’ later assessment of Miss Brodie: Mary Macgregor, at twenty-three and recently dropped by a boyfriend, looks back on her school years as her happiest time. Eunice tells her husband of twenty years that she intends on their return to Edinburgh to lay flowers on the grave of Miss Brodie because she was “full of culture.” And Sandy, who betrays Miss Brodie and thus contributes to her being forced to resign, later admits that her career in psychology and success as an author results from the impression Miss Brodie made on her.

Perhaps the unconventional use of chronology in the novel reflects Brodie's unconventional use of her students for her own fulfillment and political purposes, though probably not--the novel's structure works better than Brodie's teaching methods and unconventional ideas.  

Read the study guide:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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