(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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 nightgown under a pillow at Lowther’s house, and Miss Gaunt sees that Miss Mackay is promptly told, though Miss Ellen cannot prove that the nightgown belonged to Brodie. As a consequence of this...

(The entire section is 682 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

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 entire section is 856 words.)