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APS TOGETHER

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark Day 7

October 7, 2020 | Ch. 4, pp. 79-82 (through ““only the squares on the other two sides”)

James Wood observes, “In the course of the novel we never leave the school to go home, alone, with Miss Brodie. We surmise that there is something unfulfilled and even desperate about her, but the novelist refuses us access to her interior. This comment surprises me a little because Spark establishes so clearly the nature of her portrait. I would no more expect to go home with Miss Brodie than to overhear the inner thoughts of Jay Gatsby. To me the very title betokens myth, not interiority.



I don’t know which repetition makes me more sad: Mary Macgregor running hither and thither in the science room, terrified by the magnesium flares; or Miss Lockhart, quite the nicest teacher in the school, already feeling exasperation at Mary’s dull face.



In another tidy origami fold of future time, Spark compares Sandy’s regret regarding Mary with Miss Brodie’s. While Sandy suggests that fate/divine authority may be punishing her for her unkindness, Miss B’s regret takes the form of worldly suspicions.



Miss Mackay’s plot is deliciously foiled by Mary’s sheer denseness & two years of Miss Brodie’s indoctrination regarding the evils of team spirit. Her stirring celebrations of “individualism” serve a fascistic desire to maintain control over her own team



“[Jenny] did not again experience her early sense of erotic wonder in life until suddenly one day when she was nearly forty, an actress of moderate reputation married to a theatrical manager.” I find this statement quietly devastating on two levels.



First is the sad fact that Jenny goes for nearly 30 years without feeling “that same buoyant and airy discovery of sex,” & when she finally does in Rome (a city beloved by Miss B), she can’t act on it: “there was nothing whatever to be done about it.”



Second is the flat and nearly dismissive description of Jenny’s professional life—yet she really did become an actress! So what she’s not Sybil Thorndike. She has dedicated herself to a vocation & made a life out of it. The narrator seems unimpressed.



Consoling, though, is the gentle, expansive note on which Spark ends Jenny’s flash-forward: “the concise happening filled her with astonishment whenever it came to mind in later days, and with a sense of the hidden possibilities in all things.”



“She was by temperament suited only to the Roman Catholic Church; possibly it could have embraced, even while it disciplined, her soaring and diving spirit, it might even have normalised her.” It’s tempting to read this as a gloss on Spark’s conversion.



“A creeping vision of disorder”: is this what Sandy experiences as a result of Miss Brodie’s influence and selective amorality? I wonder if this uneasiness compels Sandy toward Catholicism—does it restore her sense of order, renew her “moral perception”?


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