I’ve been intrigued by The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie since it was featured on the First Tuesday Book Club late last year and how it is often included in the various book lists (e.g. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read). Coincidentally, Muriel Spark is an author who is well loved in the blogosphere. I finally picked it up a couple of months ago (the post is severely delayed because I needed to find the time to watch the movie first to talk about them together).
First thing I noticed was how little I know about UK in general. I had to look up Edinburgh and The Brownies (thinking surely this is not brownies the chocolate cake?). Set in 1930s at an all-girl school, there are Miss Jean Brodie and her set of six girls–her “crème de la crème”. As a teacher Miss Brodie is highly opinionated about what should be taught, what is important, and what’s worth learning, often straying off the school’s curriculum path, to the horror of the school’s principal. The girls, as such impressionable ages (starting since they’re 10), for better or for worse devouring everything that is passed by their favorite teacher.
A couple of techniques Spark used in the book that really stood out for me were flash-forward (the reader is often given a glimpse of the future) and repetition. Now I dislike repetition in book (which is why I didn’t like The Road) so I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. For such a short book however, it helped to distinguish the multitude of characters. For examples, one of the girls is repeatedly described as the one “famous for sex”, one has “small, almost non-existent eyes”, one likes Math, one is good at gymnastic, and one dies in the fire.
I liked the intricacies of the characters and their relationships. As a small book, it contains a lot of ideas and an array of intriguing characters. So though The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is not earth-shattering for me, it whet my appetite for Spark’s works and I will look out for more in the future.
I leave you with a passage that echoes what I often thought as a teenager.
“Supposing that passion struck upon them in the course of the evening and they were swept away into sexual intercourse? She saw the picture of it happening in her mind, and Sandy could not stand for this spoiling. She argued with herself, surely people have time to think, they have to stop to think while they are taking their clothes off, and if they stop to think, how can they be swept away?” ~ Sandy, p46
1961, 170 pp
The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.
The Movie (1969)
There was a gap of a couple of months between me reading the book and watching the movie. I didn’t feel much about the book so I didn’t have high expectation. But after somewhat of a slow start, the movie almost suddenly became really really good! And I was left really impressed at the end of the movie! Maggie Smith was amazing in this role, like she’s born for it, like the screenplay was written for her! Little wonder then that she won Oscar for Best Actress in 1970 for the role of Miss Jean Brodie. It was the perfect cast.
But wait, there’s more! The girl who played Sandy (one of Miss Jean Brodie’s girl) was just as amazing! Unlike movies these days where people are usually cast for much younger roles, the girls here seem to be at the right age, like they are in the book (okay, I checked that Pamela Franklin, the girl who played Sandy, was 18-19 during the movie, so she’s actually older, but still.) In any way, she totally blew me away. What a shame that she doesn’t play another prominent role after this film and seems to disappear into obscurity.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable movie. It stays true to the characters and to the spirit of the book. The Brodie set was minimized into four girls instead of six, and a couple of girls were combined, but I think it worked just as well. Since the movie emphasized some of the scenes, I got to understand the characters even better than when I was reading the book. Odd I know. It rarely happens that a movie is better or on par with the book, but I think this might be just one of those cases.
ps: There was nudity in the film. How shocking is that for a classic film such as this?