The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Summary
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a novel by Muriel Spark, first published in 1961.
- The novel is set in 1930s Edinburgh and tells the story of Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, and her relationships with her pupils.
- Miss Brodie is a controversial figure, and the girls in her class are divided in their opinions of her. Some, like Sandy Stranger, are devoted to her, while others, like Jenny Gray, are more skeptical.
- A new student, Joyce Emily Hammond, dies after leaving to fight in the Spanish Civil War at Miss Brodie’s suggestion. Miss Brodie is later fired for her fascist leanings.
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 while recalling that one of their set betrayed her.
Miss Brodie takes the girls walking through Edinburgh to see the cultural sites. She dismisses the unemployment lines, claiming that Benito Mussolini (1883-1945), one of the fascist European leaders responsible for World War II (1939-1945), has eliminated such problems in Italy. Miss Brodie complains that her headmistress Miss Mackay would have her fill the girls with knowledge, but she insists that her own method of education is to summon forth that which is already in the pupil’s soul. Ironically, she does not realize that Sandy is busily imagining adventures with the hero of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped: Being Memoirs of the Adventures of David Balfour in the Year 1751 (1886), contemplating the true nature of passion, and reflecting that the girls form a sort of fascist army themselves.
Miss Brodie opens the year’s second term with the girls by describing her Italian holiday. Her own Roman profile deeply impresses Sandy, as the teacher admires the military might and the poetic legacy of the Italians. Later that year, Monica claims to have seen Miss Brodie being kissed by the art master, Teddy Lloyd, a married Catholic veteran of World War I. While the girls try to decide if Monica’s story could be true, Miss Brodie goes out on sick leave and Gordon Lowther, the singing master, takes a vacation.
Years later, Sandy will meet Miss Brodie at the Braid Hills Hotel, where she will confirm the truth of these affairs. During their conversation, Sandy will reflect on her betrayal of the older woman, but when Miss Mackay tries to pump the eleven-year-old girls for information, they are unable to assist her, since they know nothing definite. Toward the end of the term, Jenny is accosted by an exhibitionist, but Sandy begs her not to tell Miss Brodie because she is reluctant to engage with her in any real sexual details. As the spring progresses, Miss Brodie begins to embellish the story of her love affair with Hugh with details about Lloyd and Lowther, providing rich material for the girls’ own fantasies.
Soon enough, the girls begin Senior division, away from Miss Brodie, but they refuse...
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to succumb to the school’s enforced spirit of competition. They thus create a new house that meets every Saturday with Miss Brodie for tea. While Jenny and Sandy teach Miss Brodie Greek and accidentally reveal that Lloyd has begun painting Rose, she shows them how she keeps house for the wealthy and single Lowther.
Sandy visits with the Lloyds and is surprised both when Teddy kisses her and when she discovers that all of his portraits of Rose resemble Miss Brodie—an economical artistic method also employed by Miss Brodie herself when shaping her life story. For the summer holiday, Miss Brodie plans to visit Germany and compare German Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) to Mussolini. She also makes plans for what she hopes will be a fantastic love affair between Lloyd and Rose, but Sandy sleeps with him instead. Miss Brodie is almost equally surprised by Lowther’s engagement to Miss Lockhart.
The Marcia Blaine School briefly hosts a new student, Joyce Emily Hammond, but she runs away to fight in the Spanish Civil War at Miss Brodie’s suggestion and is killed. After graduation, Sandy advises Miss Mackay to pursue her quarry on political grounds, so Miss Brodie is fired in 1939 for her fascist leanings. Years later, Sandy becomes Sister Helena and receives visitors to her cloister in admiration of her treatise, “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.” When asked about her influences, she names only one: “a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.”