The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The dominant character is Miss Jean Brodie, who represents a type: a “war-bereaved” and “progressive” spinster of Edinburgh, deprived of her first love, who was killed in World War I, driven by frustrated sexual energy and devoted to “new ideas and energetic practices in art of social welfare, education or religion.” She is a proto-Fascist. She admires first Benito Mussolini then Hitler. She is out of place in the “traditional” girls’ school where she teaches, constantly at odds with Miss Mackay, whose “reasoning power,” she believes, “is deficient.” She is a committed feminist, independent and decidedly eccentric.

In a real sense, she is a great teacher, thanks to her personal charisma. As Harold W. Schneider has written, Brodie is “intelligent, energetic, individualistic, personally attractive; a woman of taste and a challenge to the stuffiness and narrow-mindedness of the people around her,” such as Miss Mackay and her accomplice, Miss Gaunt, who actively promote Brodie’s downfall.

On the other hand, Brodie is obviously flawed in her judgment and quite doctrinaire. Her artistic and political beliefs spring from emotional instinct. “By the time we arrive at Miss Mackay’s study” toward the end, when Sandy has decided to destroy the woman’s career, Bernard Harrison notes, “we are mostly on Sandy’s side, and the novel has turned . . . from a light social satire to a vision of metaphysical evil,” an...

(The entire section is 474 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Miss Jean Brodie

Miss Jean Brodie, an individualistic teacher of younger students at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. Considered attractive because of her “Roman features” and brown hair coiling at the nape of her neck, Brodie is in her forties, an age that she regards as the prime of her life. She is an early admirer of Benito Mussolini, whom she credits with having eliminated unemployment and litter in the streets of Rome. She later extends her admiration to Adolf Hitler as well and is forced into early retirement. She considers her pupils to be “the crème de la crème” and has devoted her life to them. Her first lover, Hugh Carruthers, died during World War I; her second lover, Teddy Lloyd, is married. Longing for romance but deprived of it, Brodie attempts to live vicariously through the affairs of her students. Her plan for one of these affairs fails, however, and the other outlets for her passion—politics and her unusual approach to education—ultimately prove to be her undoing. Brodie dies shortly after World War II, still unmarried at the age of fifty-six and unable to understand how she could have been betrayed by one of her own students.

Sandy Stranger

Sandy Stranger, one of the ten students who have become known collectively as “the Brodie set.” Distinguished in the junior school for her tiny eyes and her skill at elocution, Sandy does not outwardly appear much different from the other Brodie girls; they are all dressed in the same panama hat and deep violet uniform. She is imaginative, creating stories in her mind that involve herself and the characters from whatever book she currently is reading. Sandy later enters a convent, where she becomes Sister Helena of the Transfiguration. She writes a psychological treatise titled The Transfiguration of the Commonplace and becomes unexpectedly famous. Her sudden betrayal of Brodie is suspected by her former mentor only shortly before Brodie’s death.

Jenny Gray

Jenny Gray, Sandy’s best friend. The prettiest and most graceful girl of the Brodie set, Jenny enters a school of dramatic arts during what would have been her final year at the Marcia Blaine School.

Mary Macgregor

Mary Macgregor, the least intelligent of Brodie’s inner circle and their scapegoat. Mary goes on to become a shorthand-typist, joins the military during World War II, and dies tragically at the age of twenty-four in a hotel fire while on leave.

Eunice Gardiner

Eunice Gardiner, a small but athletic girl. Eunice is both a gymnast and a...

(The entire section is 1089 words.)