Write a critical essay on the narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
First published in 1961, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie could be considered Muriel Spark’s most famous novel. Spark was born and spent her childhood and early adulthood in Scotland, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, her sixth novel, is set on home turf, in Edinburgh more specifically, in the 1930s. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
The novel tells the story of the central character,
Jean Brodie, a school teacher whose beliefs and practices are unique amongst teachers at the school, and the experience of a group of female students who have her as their teacher in their adolescent years. Miss Brodie’s emphasis on her students being the “creme de la creme” angers other teachers and, at the same time, makes her students feel special in the school. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
With strongly defined individual characters, the novel explores themes such as control, the purpose of education and femininity. In recent years, critics have also begun to discuss the place of sexuality in the novel, analyzing the relationships between teacher and students through the lens of lesbianism.
Narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A unique novel in the history of Scottish literature, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has been adapted successfully for stage and screen in the years since its publication. Thanks to Muriel Spark’s skill, meeting Miss Brodie, however much you might disagree with her political views, is an unforgettable experience for the reader of this novel.
The comic novel “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”
was written by Muriel Spark and was first published in the USA and Britain in 1961. It has also been adapted for the stage and as a film starring Maggie Smith as Jean Brodie. Muriel Spark was born in Edinburgh and has been creativly writing since 1950. She received numerous awards and prices for her novels, plays, poems and biographies.
The novel “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” is about the special relationship between six girls, the so called “Brodie set”, and their passionate, unconventional teacher Miss Brodie. In the autumn of 1930`s Miss Brodie, teacher at the Junior Department of Marcia Blaine School for Girls, takes over a new class. Soon the girls experience the unusual education methods of Miss Brodie, e.g. when she leads them into the school garden under a big elm for a history lesson. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
However instead of working with the history books she lets the girls use them as “alibis” whenever Miss Mackay, the headmistress, makes one of her rounds. Miss Brodie prefers to tell stories of her own past, e.g. of her engagement with a man named Hugh who later had been killed in the war. From now on the girls develop a great interest in Miss Brodie´s private life like e.g. Sandy Stranger and Jennifer Gray, two friends who have exciting discussion´s about the teacher´s sexual life. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
In the sequel of the term Miss Brodie selects six girls for her “Brodie set”:
Sandy Stranger who is popular for her small, almost non-existent, eyes, her nice vowel sounds and her tendency towards talking with imaginary people; Jennifer Gray is a born actress and furthermore is the prettiest and most graceful girl of the set; Monica Douglas, a girl which is famous for her outbursts of rage and her later developing ability of doing mathematics; Rose Stanley, who as a young girl is mostly interested in cars and will later be associated with sex; Eunice Gardiner, a small person, who is able to do spritely gymnastics and Mary McGregor the “black sheep” of the set, who is only known as a silent lump whom everybody could blame. This set experiences from now on a special attention of Miss Brodie, because she wants to make them the “crème de – la crème”. So she invites them to tea-parties in her flat and takes them into confidence about her private life and her feud with the headmistress. She wants the girls to profit of her “prime”, her best years which have now come. She takes them for long walks and shows them the other side of Edinburgh: The Grassmarket, where poverty and violence are normal sights. During these trips she explains them that her conflicts with Miss Mackay and the staff are due to her different opinion about education. After the summer holidays the new term starts. Miss Brodie still follows her old methods and tells her class about her summer holiday in Italy, where she met Mussolini and his fascisti, whom she admires very much. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
One day Monica Douglas comes up with exciting news:
She claims to have seen Miss Brodie and Teddy Lloyd, the art-master, kissing each other in the art-room. At first the rest of the set does not believe her, but after she affirms that she would tell the truth the whole set is occupied with this suspicion for the rest of the term. The events around Miss Brodie get more and more exciting, when she and Mr.Lowther, the singing-master, are both away from school at the same time because of an ailment and the set hears two teachers speculate about an affair between Miss Brodie and the singing-master. The story reaches its climax when Miss Brodie tells the girls after the easter holidays that she had spent her time in Cramond, the residence of Mr. Lowther. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
After the summer the new term starts. The Brodie set attends now the Senior School. The first weeks the girls are overwhelmed by their new teachers and lessons. Miss Mackay now tries to get rid of Miss Brodie’s influence on the girls by breaking up the set. However the plan fails: It is true that she allocates them to different houses of the school, but the set strongly holds together and does not join in the competitve games between the houses. Furthermore Miss Brodie keeps on inviting them to her tea-parties and educates them in private. The following year the suspicions about the affair between Miss Brodie and Mr.Lowther prove to be true, although Jean Brodie herself never admits anything about the affair. However when she discovers that the bachelor Mr.Lowther keeps on getting thinner she suspects that his housekeepers do no proper work. So she decides to do the job on herself and is from now on to find every week-end at Mr.Lowther’s. In spite she does not forget her set and invites two by two of them to Cramond at Saturdays. During the following weeks she shows a deep interest in Mr.Lloyds art-lessons and questions the girls about it. The set is now often invited to Mr.Lloyd’s, who has recently discovered the perfect model for his portraits in Rose. Sandy accompanies her and keeps on criticising his pictures as to her mind everyone of them looks like Miss Brodie. One day Mr.Lloyd has enough of the criticism and kisses Sandy violently. First she is shocked, but the art-master makers her feel insecure by insulting her, so that she decides to say nothing about it to anyone. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
The following time Miss Brodie searches for a girl in her set in whom she can confide entirely.
At least she chooses Sandy due to her insight and furthermore Rose for her sexual instinct. The two girls are from now on the puppets in a game which she wants to play with Teddy Lloyd: Rose with her instinct and her sexual charisma is to start preparing to be Teddy Lloyd’s lover while Sandy, with her insight, is to act as the informant on the affair. However what Miss Brodie does not know is that the art-master’s interest in Rose is simply a professional one and the real instinct of Rose is to be a good model. So in the end it is Sandy who starts a passionate love affair with her art-master, who interested her all the time after the forbidden kiss. narrative technique adopted by Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
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