Review for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel

I first encountered The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1969 when I viewed the British drama film, based on the novel of the same name by Muriel Spark. Like many others I was mesmerized by Maggie Smith's Academy-Award winning performance as the imperious Miss Jean Brodie who lectured and directed her girls. The original novel by Muriel Spark had been turned into a play by Jay Presson Allen, which opened in London in 1966 with Vanessa Redgrave and on Broadway in 1968, with Zoe Caldwell in the title role, a performance for which she won a Tony Award. Allen adapted the play into the film, which was directed by Ronald Neame. In addition to Maggie Smith there was also a notable performance from Pamela Franklin as Sandy, for which she won the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actress. It is also remembered for the beautiful song by Rod McKuen, "Jean".It was more than a decade before I actually got around to reading the original novel, and as is the case even with very good films the novel was considerably better. Muriel Spark explores the complex morally ambiguous lives of her charcters through a medley of straight narrative and flash-forwards that propel the reader through the lives of Miss Brodie's girls. "Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she will be mine for life," says the elegant Miss Brodie, the 1930s Edinburgh schoolmistress who is devoting her "prime" to six hand-picked, 10-year-old students. She demonstrates an unorthodox devotion that values art above history and dwells upon her personal love life and travels. The author breaks into the novel to tell the reader, in brief paragraph-long omniscient interruptions just what will become of the girls in the future. Miss Brodie's attempt to inspire seems to lead to unintended consequences, but it is not clear exactly what her original intent was beyond, perhaps, merely dazzling these young girls. As a result a sort of melancholy emerges, but it is the vigor and beauty of Spark's prose make this a great novel. It not surprising that it was included on the best 100 lists of both Time Magazine and the Modern Library.
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