Book Group: Aug 2015 - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie discussion thread

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Aug 2015
4:30pm, 2 Aug 2015
5,398 posts
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Little Nemo - this kitten can
*** Do not read on if you haven't already read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark ***

Spoilers ahead! :-)
Aug 2015
3:34pm, 3 Aug 2015
372 posts
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Unity
This is quite a short book and easy to read.

Having spent many years in teaching and feeling responsible for the pupils in my care, I know how easy it is to influence them. However, in the case of Jean Brodie I would venture to say that her "teaching" amounted to what would these days be termed grooming.

She knew that what she was doing was wrong. She prevailed upon the girls to be deceitful by looking as though they were attending to the timetabled lessons whilst pontificating on entirely different subjects.

Brodie comes over as a self centred woman who thinks much of herself. Did she choose self centred girls in her reflection or did she influence them to become self centred? Brodie is rather a flat character as we really learn little or nothing about her. We see the girls growing up and we are told what their lives will be but Brodie herself remains hazy.

The novel jumps back and forward in time and from person to person. Certain events and misfortunes are revisited, for example Mary running hither and thither.

There's an underlying humour in the way certain information is given. Spark had obviously studied and understood certain characteristics among young girls and middle aged spinster teachers.

I thought the book well written and thoughtful. However, it failed to involve me. I am, though, glad that I read it.
Aug 2015
4:47pm, 13 Aug 2015
7,464 posts
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Columba
I read it in my late teens or early twenties, which you will appreciate is a long time ago. I have re-read it but not for years. I remember it as being very humorous in places (for example, the girls speculating about how people can bring themselves to engage in sex - "how can they, it's so rude!"). I hadn't thought about how Jean Brodie herself is depicted. I suppose she is thoroughly egotistical and something of a power freak, and it may be difficult to depict someone like that "from the inside". There is a moment towards the end when she says "I fear I am past my prime" and at this point perhaps she realizes how hollow her life has been (even if she doesn't recognize how destructive of other people's lives she has been).
Aug 2015
12:13am, 19 Aug 2015
17,573 posts
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McGoohan
I read the P of Miss JB many years ago for a Twentieth Century literature course I was doing and I remembered enjoying it. What I hadn’t bargained on was having my memories of the book overwhelmed by my memories of Maggie Smith in the film. Hers was such a ‘big’ performance that it’s hard to read the book now and try to close that off.

In the context of the book, I found JB to ne a much more sympathetic (and pathetic) character than I’d remembered. It struck me that Alan Bennett borrows a bit from JB in his creation of Hector in The History Boys – and influential but deeply flawed teacher.

It’s very short isn’t it? Just six chapters, but it manages to pull a lot in. On the most obvious levels, it’s apparently about the formative influences on our lives – sometimes they shape us and sometimes we rebel against them.

Then there’s the undermining of its own narrative by flash-forwards. So we learn that poor stupid Mary McGregor will die in a hotel fire and her life go unfulfilled. Spark frequently does this, revealing someone’s fate early on before slipping back to the 1930s. We even find out half way through that Sandy is the betrayer and JB doesn’t ever really find out for sure. (And what a contrast with the film with Maggie Smith screaming “Assassin!” at Sandy!)

A terrific book.
Aug 2015
9:10am, 19 Aug 2015
7,520 posts
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Columba
I think I'd better re-read it yet one more time; my memories of it may well have been overlaid by Maggie Smith's performance.
Aug 2015
8:52am, 20 Aug 2015
5,453 posts
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Little Nemo - this kitten can
It was quite different to how I imagined it was going to be. I haven't seen the film but even I had Maggie Smith in my head for Jean. I found her quite an odd character and I didn't really understand why she would want the art teacher to sleep with one of her girls. I suppose it's some sort of proxy thing but I found it a bit unconvincing. The most shocking part for me was when the science teacher married Mr Lowther and then she couldn't work any more :-O

It took a while for me to get into the book mainly because with it jumping back and forth in time and having different girls narrating different parts it was hard to remember who was who. Once I'd got them sorted in my head I thought it did well with the characters of the girls, especially Sandy imagining herself talking to literary characters and their weird obsession with sex. I felt so sorry for Mary and I'm rather haunted by her thinking that her school days were the best of her life :-(

On the whole it was a good read with some slyly humorous bits so I'm glad someone lent it to me. I've given this a 6.

I've created a poll BTW
Aug 2015
7:19pm, 20 Aug 2015
7,539 posts
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Columba
I really must re-read it. Nemo's post has made me realise I've forgotten quite a lot of it.
Sep 2015
9:03pm, 21 Sep 2015
12,741 posts
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Yorkshire Pie
I'd never read it before or seen the film and enjoyed it. I'm glad I read it :)

I got through it in a single sitting which helped a bit with the jumping around because if I'd put it down and picked it up again I think I'd have struggled to remember which girl was which for a while.
Oct 2015
6:43pm, 15 Oct 2015
6,922 posts
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LindsD
I also read it years ago and then again slightly less years ago. I think, like McG that my memories are totally overwhelmed by the Maggie Smith character in the film. I do remember when I re-read the book thinking that JB was actually not that nice and a bit pathetic, more than she is in the film. It's a great book, though.
Oct 2015
3:53pm, 20 Oct 2015
8,056 posts
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Columba
I re-read it and discovered that I had indeed got the book and the film mixed up together. And yes, it is an excellent book.

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*** Do not read on if you haven't already read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark ***

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