A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
If one has seen only the movie version of this book, a fine work in its own right that premiered in 1969 with the inimitable Maggie Smith starring in the main role, one might be lulled into thinking the book to be quite similar. One would be wrong. This short novel set in 1930s Edinburgh, Scotland, impresses me as being an extended prose poem about an intelligent and nonconformist teacher who is yet rather naïve. Brodie eschews the prescribed school curriculum to lecture her female pupils concerning a wide variety of cultural and artistic topics, and yet when she also embraces the likes of fascist leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler, she reflects either a certain naivete or an intellectual dullness. The word “prime” or phrases containing that word appears more than thirty times throughout these brief pages; the phrase “crème de la crème” more than five. Both have a rather fatuous ring to them, “prime” referencing Miss Brodie’s heightened sense of her own refinement and knowledge, and “crème de la crème” indicating the girls she has rather commandeered to follow her—not just for the year they are in her class but for their entire lifetimes: they are the “Brodie set.”
Spark’s structure is an omnisciently meandering one in which she may speak of one child in her adult future, one dying prematurely, another becoming a nun. Very lightly Sparks inserts that the year is 1931 or 1937 or that Ms. Brodie is now forty-three. One knows where one is at all times as if the novel were a sort of hologram. Young Sandy is the only pupil who sees through Jean Brodie’s ways, and early on readers learn that she will bring Brodie down. In the last scene of the film, a wounded Brodie who has been released from her teaching position because of Sandy’s actions screams the word “Assassin!” after her beloved Sandy, but the book ends rather quietly when readers visit Sandy upon her adult position in a nunnery. When asked about her childhood influences, she simply says, “There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime” (137).
TUES: AWW | Erin Foster
WEDS: AWW | Howard Zinn
THURS: AWW | Nadine Stair
FRI: My Book World | Heather Clark's Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Career of Sylvia Plath