The Brodie Set were a group of six pre-teen girls at The Marcia Blaine School in Edenborough, who were completely devoted to their favourite Teacher - Miss Jean Brodie.
Miss Brodie was proud and eccentric. She refused to teach the defined curriculum - instead instructing girls on how to be proper young ladies or captivating them with tales of her travels and adventures. Miss Brodie believed she was in her prime and she let everyone know it. She would often brag "Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life." "You girls are my vocation", she insists. "I am dedicated to you in my prime." This does not endear the teacher to the administration of this 1930s private school, who search for a reason to dismiss her.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark follows the girls throughout their school years, as they grow up under the influence of Miss Brodie, who takes them to museums and tea parties and to the homes of her friends. Brodie continues to be a strong influence on their lives, even after they graduate to the Senior school and she is no longer their teacher.
In some ways, Miss Brodie is a lovely person: She is bright and imaginative, passionate about art and music and history, and fiercely loyal to her girls. But in other ways, her flaws show through. She is an admirer of fascism in the years before World War II, showering compliments upon both Mussolini and Hitler.
Worst of all, she is manipulative of the girls she is mentoring. At one point, Brodie falls in love with a married teacher and, knowing she cannot have him, she conspires to have one of the girls sleep with him instead. She even makes sure another girl is with them to report back to Miss Brodie. The plan backfires when the art teacher begins an affair with the wrong girl.
The story often jumps ahead to the grown-up girls of the Set - sometimes by parenthetically revealing a bit about a girl's future ("Rose, who would later be famous for sex") and sometimes with an entire scene taking place among the older girls or with an aging Miss Brodie, who dies shortly after passing out of her "prime".
Because of the flash-forwards, we know that Jenny will become a nun; that Mary will die young; that Rose will be famous for sex; and that Miss Brodie will be fired after being betrayed by one of her pupils. But the humor and intelligence of Spark's writing keeps the reader engaged until the end.
In fact, it is Spark's wit that kept me engaged throughout this short novel. She perfectly captures the eccentric schoolteacher and the teenage girls gossiping about school and sex and who they are and what they will become.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a short, but excellent novel about the effects - both positive and negative - that a strong role model can have on impressionable youth. It is told in a way to delight the reader.