The Joy of Miss Jean Brodie

I’ve just finished reading “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” by Muriel Spark which is something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve always been enthralled by the movie with Maggie Smith and Celia Johnson and, as a result, I’ve had the good intentions to read the book for a long time now.

And what a great book it is. Although there are some differences in the plot, the book is a wonderful story about a rather foolish Miss Jean Brodie who, while glamorous, is also wilfully blind to certain things about herself, which is to her own detriment ultimately. But there is something heroic about someone who, when she finds the world is not as it should be, simply pretends that it is. It says something for the stubbornness of the human spirit. Jean Brodie wills the world to be a certain way and, on some levels, it becomes that way.

Poor Mary MacGregor is always portrayed as stupid – quite unsympathetically. I don’t remember the characterisation of Mary MacGregor being as cruel in the movie. And, in the book, Sandy becomes a nun of all things, who writes a psychology text book!

The book reminded me of some of the lesser known Brodie-isms. Like the wonderful expression: “For those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing that they like.” And of course, there are the better known ones as well:

  • “ ……. and my girls are the crème de la crème “
  • “I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders. Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life.”

It seems that Muriel Spark was a controversial figure herself. Apparently she lived in Rhodesia or Zambia for a short time.

I would be delighted if someone could recommend a book about Edinburgh in the nineteen thirties. Maybe a history of Scotland? I’m particularly interested in the poor people in the slums in the worst parts of Edinburgh that the girls encounter on some of their walks. I’d like to know more about what inspired Muriel Spark.




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