Monday, September 16, 2013

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

Surprise!  Here I am on a Monday!  

I have been reading at such a voracious rate lately, I figured I should squeeze in three books this week, rather than the typical two.  Considering that I have four books finished and waiting in the wings, another two started, and a whole collection waiting On Reserve, I felt the need to increase the pace a bit.  So, this week, rather than the typical Tuesday/Thursday routine, you can expect new posts today, Wednesday, and Friday.  You can also expect quite a range of genre this week.  I have been hopping all over the place lately.

Today, we continue with the 100 Best Novels challenge.  I am very slowly making progress on the list, a fact which excites me.  Over on my personal blog, I made the goal of completing this list by my 30th birthday.  This means reading about two books a month from the list.  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie marked my second such book for the month of August.  

For those of you unfamiliar with this work (a category I myself fell into until this challenge), let me offer a quick overview of the plot.  Murial Spark sets her book in 1930s Edinburgh.  I actually experienced this particular book as an audiobook.  Let me just say, the Scottish accent used by the reader was delightful.  Jean Brodie, a woman whose specific age is never given, teaches at a girls school.  She has a select group of students who are her favorite.  They are the "Brodie set."

The chronology of the book bounces about quite a bit.  The reader must piece together the details to form the complete story.  Jean Brodie is a teacher who not only invests extensively in her students, but also confides in them - at times to an inappropriate level.  Miss Brodie often tells her students how she is in her 'prime' of life.  She recognizes her current state as the best years of her life and encourages the girls to be on the watch for their own primes.  

Miss Brodie is single.  However, she carries on relationships of different levels with two male teachers at the school.  The art teacher, Mr. Lloyd, is married with a gaggle of children.  This is the man Miss Brodie pines after.  She never shares more with him than one stolen kiss.  Rather, she uses her students to carry out a vicarious relationship with him.  Eventually, one girl, who has reached the age of seventeen by this point, does have an affair with him.  The other teacher, Mr. Lowther, teaches music and is single like Jean Brodie.  They do have an affair of their own; but it is fairly evident that Brodie's heart is never in the relationship.

Eventually, Brodie is dismissed from her position.  The administration has been after her for ages. Her teaching method is far from traditional and her personal life matches.  It takes the betrayal of one of 'the set' to do her in.  Brodie spends the rest of her life wondering which of her beloved girls provided the evidence necessary to terminate her job.

I think, as a modern reader, I missed some of the cultural context needed to take this book from good to great.  As my Humanities students just learned, art stems from a cultural context and cannot be separated from it.  When this book was published in 1961, it would still have been considered fairly scandalous for a single teacher to be carrying on such relationships.  It certainly would not have been seen as acceptable for her to confide details of such to her young, impressionable students.  

While I found Spark's work enjoyable, I had hoped for more.  There are so few works by women on the 100 Best Novels list.  I wanted those on there to truly stand out.  Instead, I find myself wondering what exactly stood out about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to the Modern Library committee.  Again, I think I am lacking some cultural appreciation.  I did not dislike it; I am also not running to get my hands on more work by Muriel Spark.  

Pages: 150
Date Completed: August 27, 2013

What did you read this weekend?  Anything of note?

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