Although small in scope and page count, Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie captivated me with its simultaneous sparse phrasing and insightful, witty depth. An account of Miss Brodie, a teacher with revolutionary educational methods, and her pupils at a small Scottish school, this slim novel is at once an easy, entertaining read and a stepping stone in the transformation of modern fiction.
Miss Brodie has a lasting, albeit ambiguous impact upon her set of pupils, each of with becomes famous within their circumscribed world for specific attributes: Jenny for being beautiful, Monica for mathematical aptitude and anger, Eunice for gymnastics, Rose for having sex, Sandy for small eyes, insight, and vowel sounds, Mary for being the designated scapegoat. At once labels of identity and reductive phrases, these epithets haunt the girls and Miss Brodie as they write each other’s characters. While supplying a status of belonging within the framework of society, they also narrow each other’s ability to possess their own identities.
To anyone who has ever interacted with other people, this negotiation of identity and belonging will strike a chord of recognition. I read it for the first time yesterday afternoon, and am already eager to crack the spine and give it another go, as well as hunt down the numerous works of Ms. Spark.