The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark

The first time I watched Downton Abbey, I watched it with someone who was expecting it to be like Monty Python. As the hour-long costume drama unfolded, his face fell further and further. Downton Abbey is a fine show, but it was so far from what he expected that it didn’t stand a chance. You can’t recover from a shock like that.

Jean Brodie is described as a book about a “facist” teacher who develops a “dangerous” relationship with her students. She is described by some as one of the greatest villains in British literature. Noted detective novelist Ian Rankin describes this as the one book he can’t live without. Brodie is eventually betrayed by one of her students. Oh, the intrigue. 

I thought this book was about a manipulative teacher, some sort of murder, and ultimately betrayal. 

In fact, it’s a charming book about a manipulative young teacher who talks openly about sex with her young students. It is set circa 1930 and published circa 1960 so, you know, scandal. She summers in Europe and returns to Scotland with tales of the glamorous facists. Ultimately, it is her interest in politics that gives the school a reason to fire her. 

The book is a fine book. But there is no murder. There is no mystery (aside from wondering which student sold her out, which isn't really a mystery because Brodie was such a weirdo that someone tattling on her was inevitable).

It’s probably an excellent book, if you don’t spend the entire thing wondering “when will the bodies start piling up?”  I didn’t pay enough attention, thinking the “real” plot hadn’t started yet. I didn’t understand that the giggling over which teacher had a crush on which other teacher was the plot. That the “facist” teacher was truly just a teacher with facist sympathies. That the “dangerous” relationship with the students was one where she treated them as adults, rather than the children they were, but to little consequence. The “Prime” of Miss Brodie refers to her sexually maturity, not the height of her tyrannical power. 

All in all, it was a bit like jumping on a roller coaster only to discover it you're actually on an escalator - a perfectly serviceable thing. Just not what I was expecting. 

You think it's one thing, but it's actually something else. You like them both, just not for the same reasons. Happens all the time. 

You think it's one thing, but it's actually something else. You like them both, just not for the same reasons. Happens all the time.