Muriel Spark was a poet for many years before she became a novelist, and her prose has been praised for its compressed, lyrical style. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie describes a time period and a character, rather than developing an intricate plot. The novel is narrated objectively in the third person omniscient perspective; still, most of the story is told from Sandy’s point of view. She has a vivid imagination and often carries on dialogue, writes letters, or conceives of action sequences while Miss Brodie is teaching, thereby further diluting the narrative trajectory.
Despite the novel’s anticlimactic revelations, Spark keeps her readers interested by anchoring descriptions to specific actions that develop key themes, while withholding information central to those actions. For example, one Saturday afternoon when they are in Senior division, Sandy and Jenny are invited to take tea with Miss Brodie at Lowther’s wealthy estate. The purpose of the episode is to characterize the couple’s relationship during what was for the times a rather torrid love affair. For a reader, the single day becomes the centerpiece in a narrative web that includes all the characters who have reason to betray the teacher, as well as the possible means they might employ to do so. None of the characters is confirmed as the betrayer, and the episode concludes with a simple domestic musing by Miss Brodie. The musing forms a prime example of how each of their commonplace lives will be transfigured by the impending world war, the aftermath of which is not directly addressed in the text.
Early in her career, Spark tended to distance herself from her Scottish heritage. She once wrote, Edinburgh is the place that I, a constitutional exile, am essentially exiled from. . . . It was Edinburgh that bred within me the conditions of exiledom.
Still, Spark uses this elemental locale as the setting for her novel. Additionally, she makes Miss Brodie a quintessential Scot by specifying that she is descended from Deacon William Brodie (1741-1788), a businessman and thief who was hanged on a gallows he himself had designed. Brodie’s...
(The entire section is 875 words.)