The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Critical Context - Essay

Muriel Spark

Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

From the time of its publication, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has been highly praised for its remarkable construction and craftsmanship. Critics have disagreed, however, about the novel’s religious implications. Granville Hicks, in The Saturday Review, noted that Muriel Spark, who, like Sandy Stranger, converted to Catholicism, is a “gloomy Catholic,” like Flannery O’Connor and Graham Greene, “more concerned with the evil of man than with the goodness of God.” If so, Spark, like O’Connor, is brilliantly satiric and amusing in her gloominess. Moreover, the gloom can be just as easily traced to John Calvin as to the Holy See, for, as Samuel Hynes noted in Commonweal, “the setting of the novel is Edinburgh, and the spirit of Calvin broods over the novel.”

Both Charles Alva Hoyt in 1965 and Harrison in 1976 found a more likely novelist to compare with Spark than the “gloomy” Catholics first noted by reviewers working against journalistic deadlines. Hoyt called Spark a “surrealist Jane Austen,” and Harrison made this parallel even more convincing: “Like Jane Austen,” he wrote, “Muriel Spark is a moral satirist.” Clearly, Spark makes fun of both her protagonist, foolishly obsessed with the notion of being in her “prime” and ridiculously self-centered, and Sandy, her Stranger nemesis, whose vision is squinted through her porcine eyes. Both characters are seriously flawed, and the novelist seems...

(The entire section is 435 words.)