Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

(Which cover do you prefer?)

"One's prime is the moment one was born for."
~The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Being an influential teacher is one of my fantasy jobs, so I was immediately drawn into this concise novel about a teacher, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, a writer I was introduced to on Kate's Book Blog. Published in 1961, this short novel uses words sparingly to present the story of a teacher and the great, lasting influence she has on the lives of her students. Intelligent and daring, this novel showcases Muriel Spark's droll wit and indicates that this author was "in her prime" when she wrote this book. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie enjoyed dramatic adaptations, including a stage play in 1968, and a film starring Maggie Smith a year later.

"One's prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full."
~The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
is set in the 1930's at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland. Teacher Jean Brodie, undoubtedly "in her prime", stands out like a sore thumb at this traditional school. Her teaching methods are unorthodox, and she prefers love affairs to marriage. Miss Brodie is dedicated to her students, and in return her girls, the crème de la crème --are intensely devoted to her. In fact, they're even sometimes a bit in love with her, joining her for tea and trips to the museum, although one of them will betray her. Each member of the "Brodie set"--Eunice, Jenny, Mary, Monica, Rose, and Sandy--is "famous for something", and Miss Brodie over the years encourages them to become independent, passionate, and ambitious. But in contrast to this allegiance Miss Brodie also has staunch opponents at the school: the "thrilling" senior science teacher, Miss Lockhart; Miss Gaunt, sister of a strict Calvinist minister; the traditional headmistress, Miss Mackay; and other faculty members.

In this book Miss Brodie repeatedly (amusingly) tells her students that she's "in her prime", and eventually the students repeat this phrase almost as often as she does. All this talk about "primes" confuses after a while and I started to think about about how we interpret the expression "the prime of your life", which is defined by the dictionary as "the time of maturity when power and vigor are greatest". I've heard people refer to others as "past their prime", often used in reference to a woman's fading beauty (as if that's the only thing that matters). It's also used to describe an athlete who's "past his or her prime" after a certain age (because unfortunately, the body has a tendency to break down due to the heavy toll of sports). However, in a more general sense we may place outdated limitations on people when it comes to their "primes". Miss Jean Brodie has a long "prime" in the book--and that was decades ago. Maybe we could have even longer "primes" in this era (due to health advances and awareness). And as Miss Brodie says, you need to be on the lookout for your "prime", which can arrive at any time of life (there's hope for late bloomers). As for me, I think I'm presently "in my prime", and hope to remain so until I'm 90 years old, or better yet, until 100.


  1. I had a teacher in third grade who was in her prime, I still remember the fun I had in her class. She came to our 35th reunion and seemed to me the very same person! She's been in her prime a long time - and she still is. Inspirational indeed!

  2. Teachers often seem ageless, don't they?


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