The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Muriel Spark

A strange little novel about a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls with a very unorthodox teaching style in which she focuses more on exposing her students to Art and Culture and stories of her love life rather than covering stuffy subjects like math and history. She collects a core group of girls around her, and they become the “Brodie set,” keeping themselves apart from the rest of the school even as they move on to the senior school. Through periodic flash forwards, we learn that one of Miss Brodie’s girls betrays her, prompting her early retirement while she is still “in her prime.”

Spark’s writing is remarkably concise with a sarcastic humor that will likely either hit or miss. Though I found the book unnervingly unsympathetic to every single character, the recurring references to Miss Brodie’s supposed prime, her students being the crème de la crème, and the girls sometimes questionable talents amused me — plus I appreciated the craft of the narrative. I’m curious about the film adaptation, with Maggie Smith staring as Miss Brodie.