Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Here's a review I've been sitting on for a long time! I've been particularly bad lately about just writing down my thoughts in vague note-form and never sculpting them into a proper review. So that's why this is a little later than planned (I actually read this book in November after getting it for my birthday!). 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie


Muriel Spark



One-sentence summary:

The 'Brodie set' are the school's selected few, who are taken under the wing of Miss Jean Brodie in her prime and guided from childhood to burgeoning adulthood, discovering all sorts of secrets along the way.


The thing that I particularly enjoyed about this book was the insight into the young girls' minds. They were just SO like my friends and I when we were that age - not exactly the same, but showing so many of the same thought processes. It was especially interesting to read about how they would try to decipher the adult world and the behaviour of the grown-ups around them. They understood more than the adults thought they did, but still got a distorted picture of reality, which is something that rang really true for me.

Another aspect of the girls' characters that was completely familiar to me was their treatment of Mary Macgregor, 'the one who was always blamed'. Their attitude towards each other's failings is rather unforgiving, and their distorted social morality (especially in their often cruel treatment of Mary) is the mark of their childishness. That's not to say that adults can't be cruel, but it's their thoughtlessness that really sets the children apart, something that I've not seen captured in a book in quite the same way before.

It was also interesting to see how the girls' (particularly Sandy's) perception of Miss Brodie and the adult world changes through the course of the book. Throughout, we are given snippets of their adult lives and see them look back on their time as 'Miss Brodie's set', and their relationship to Miss Brodie herself gets more and more complex over time. At the end, Sandy looks back with none of the blind affection or admiration of childhood, but always acknowledges Miss Brodie's role in profoundly shaping her life.

I think part of the reason I enjoyed this book is because it was given to me by my mum, and every moment just reminded me of her. It wasn't necessarily that the characters were anything like her (though she did grow up and go to school in Edinburgh, which is where the book is set). It was more the fact that I could just imagine it being the sort of book she would like - focussing on particular aspects of characters and their lives rather than being plot-heavy, and profoundly capturing the human side of a time period that is long in the past.

Final thoughts:

I definitely enjoyed this book, though it's hard for me to separate the book's actual merits from my sentimental feelings about it. There certainly were merits - the portrayal of children really rang true for me, and the writing completely captures the era it was written. But I'd definitely be interested to hear someone else's thoughts on it so I can clarify my own!

Have you read/want to read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie? What do you think of my review? Let me know in the comments!


  1. First, I love the iconic cover! Miss Brodieis a book I've cnsidered reading over the years like To Sir With Love and Up the Down Staircase, both of which I have read. I enjoyed all 3 movies. They interested me in my school years, as I wanted to be a teacher. Which I did!

    1. Isn't it great!? It's definitely worth a read, especially if you've liked her other books :) Miss Brodie would definitely be an interesting book for a teacher, especially seeing the school through the girls' naive viewpoint.. I quite enjoyed getting a snapshot of school in a different era. Thanks for stopping by :)


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