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APS TOGETHER

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark Day 4

October 4, 2020 | Ch. 3, pp. 43-55 (through “photographing this new Miss Brodie with her little eyes.”)

Chapter 3 begins: "The days passed and the wind blew from the Forth.” The omniscient narrator is clearing her throat—wryly invoking the forces of time and weather—as a prelude to the sweeping commentary on history and society she’s about to entertain us with.



Her own kind: A lively sociological portrait of “progressive spinsters of Edinburgh” clarifies that Miss Brodie’s attitudes and enthusiasms were by no means unusual in the 30s. The Schlegel sisters from Howard’s End: possible forebears to these vigorous women?



Nothing outwardly odd about Miss B, but “Inwardly was a different matter, and it remained to be seen, towards what extremities her nature worked her.” How and in what direction will her fluctuating nature grow? Therein lies the suspense. No need to conceal plot.



At the start of the new term, headmistress Miss Mackay gives a rushed speech to Miss B’s class, saying several of the exact same things she said the year before. “Education factory” now seems a fair assessment. When to trust Miss B’s opinions, and when not to?



The Brodie set on Mr. Lloyd, the art master: “Most wonderful of all, he had only one arm, the right, with which he painted. The other was a sleeve tucked into his pocket. He had lost the contents of the sleeve in the Great War.” Spark commits fully to the little girls’ perspective. The Great War is an abstraction to them, remote & unimaginable—they regard the amputated arm with solemn delight. Which then gives me permission to laugh at the careful, dignified tone of that last sentence.



I love the freedom with which Spark creates compound words. My favorite today is “sex-wits.” At one end of the sex spectrum is witless Mary, at the other end is Rose, all instinct and no curiosity: in between is Sandy and Jenny, endlessly fascinated and mystified.



I so recognize from my own childhood Sandy’s impulse to perform for her friends—the irresistible high of hamming it up, even as with each repetition the performance grows more broad & ridiculous & manic—“a state of extreme flourish.” See Maya in PEN15.


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