The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Form and Content

Muriel Spark

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Miss Brodie lives life on a grander scale than the typical unmarried schoolteacher does, and she believes that her students should have the benefit of her experiences, which she considers more valuable than the lessons within their texts. Her students are told to hold their history books open when they are really hearing about Miss Brodie’s travels in Italy, her dead fiancé, or her views on art.

The six girls who make up the Brodie set are selected at age ten, when they are in her junior school class. They are chosen not so much for their special abilities as for what Miss Brodie will be able to do with them—each has parents who will not question the teacher’s departures from traditional educational patterns.

In addition to vicariously experiencing Miss Brodie’s youthful affair with a soldier who was killed in World War I and her travels in Europe, the members of the set are educated in other ways that Miss Brodie finds most appropriate. They accompany her to concerts, to ballet performances, and on walks through derelict sections of Edinburgh, where they see historic buildings and learn about unemployment.

The girls remain Miss Brodie’s students for two years but continue to be the “Brodie set” through all their years at Marcia Blaine. They take tea and excursions with their former teacher as they grow older, telling her what they are learning in senior school and continuing to hear of her vacations and opinions. Their behavior is shaped by Brodie’s ideas; none joins the Girl Guides or is actively a team player because Miss Brodie does not believe in conformist behavior. This contrasts strangely with the teacher’s vocal admiration for the order in Italy under Benito Mussolini and his fascists. Only Sandy picks up on and ponders this...

(The entire section is 734 words.)