Understated Classic: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Brodie is a book by Muriel Spark that gained renown in 60s and 70s but isn’t read much today.  If I had to guess, I’d say that’s due to the books refined, clipped style.  I’d say this is the main selling point, but modern readers tend to want reading materials to be splashy, violent, and salacious.  Muriel Spark writes slim, economical prose, where the themes and content are treated as implicit rather than explicit.

The book is a suspenseful story about Miss Jean Brodie, a teacher to young girls who fills their heads with things young children probably shouldn’t yet know.  She teaches them about how Mussolini and the Fascists are doing a good job cleaning up Italy.  She teaches them about romantic love.  She teaches them to hold truth and beauty above all else.  This is a complex novel, especially for one so pared down (around 200 pages).

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a book I’d recommend to any enterprising fiction writers for one of the rare techniques it utilizes: prolepsis.  Essentially, that means the book references in passing things that don’t chronologically happen until the conclusion at the start of the story, giving you a glimpse of what’s to come, but only a tiny glimpse, like peering through a keyhole.  Other examples of books that use this technique are The Good Soldier, Heart of Darkness, and The Book of the New Sun series by Gene Wolfe.  Of the books I’ve read, this is the best example of the technique being used for dramatic effect.

It was also made into a movie with Maggie Smith in her prime in an Oscar nominated performance.

____If you’re looking for something else to read, please check out my book A Rapturous Occasion, about an elderly couple’s fear of the apocalypse, and how that nearly rends their family apart.

If you read The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, what was your opinion of it?



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