The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie Essay
The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie
‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie unfolds several dimensions of the female role. Set in Edinburgh in the 1930s, we are presented with a protagonist whom is a striking female role model in her domineering, manipulating and sexual powers, powers which we see her use to obtain her desired plans for her ‘Brodie set,’ the ‘creme de la creme.’ We see Miss Brodie play a God like figure in the novel, leading, teaching and imposing her opinions on them in hopes they will become like her. She strongly echoes Mussolini the Italian fascist, and we also see several contridictions in her character in terms of believing education is ‘to lead out’ but actually carrying out actions to draw them in and never let them go. This literature subverts conventional ideas of gender; this all woman narrative novel gives us great scope for interpreting it as a text with lesbian thematic implications, as her pupils are strangely obsessed with their glamourous school teacher. There are also several texts referred to within the primary text which bring out ideas of woman. This essay will explore these ideas and will speak the voice which Miss Brodie is trying to say; Miss Brodie, or essentially, the author, Muriel Spark.
Our protagonist Miss Jean Brodie (immediately drawing attention to ‘Miss;’ every time her name is mentioned it promotes spotlight on her unmarried status)is a repellent and omnipotent woman of her time. This literature subverts a conventional idea of woman because unlike many literature texts, the central purpose of woman does not focus around them serving men, but to be powerful and dominating. Miss Brodies’ characteristics are swallowed by the readers as shocking and unusual; echoing that the text itself and it’s ideas of the authoritative woman are different and unusual. The idea of woman in this text is certainly not innocent or fragile. The glamourous yet classy school teacher mirrors a God like figure in the novel; she quotes; ‘O’ where shall I find a virtuous woman, for her price is above rubies.'(The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark,1961, The Penguin Group, USA, page6) This Bibilcal reference from the book of proverbs identifies with Miss Brodie.
‘Virtuous’ meaning strength and efficiency is ultimately what makes her so great, and there is imagery in this quote of her being a rare gem, who dares to be different, as she is worth more than rubies. The Bible is saying that the best woman are those who do not live by their accustomed position; that the rare ones who risk being dangerous and free ( ‘Safety does not come first’ page 10) are the finest. We can see a parallel between the aspects of Miss Brodies’ character structure and the aspects of the texts structure-both go against the usual means of the status quota of woman, stand out and make strong points. Ruth Whittaker says in ‘The Faith and Fiction of Muriel Spark:’Sandy sees the set as a body with Miss Brodie for a head. There is, as David Lodge points out, ‘ a biblical parallel with the churches and the body of Christ.’
It shows an individual planning of peoples’ lives.’ It is an analysis of the temptation to play God in a world where his absence laves a dangerous void…one of the ways in which Spark makes this increasingly secular statement is by transferring her attention from Gods’ patterning in the world to mens’ designs for one another.As an analogy, she concentrates reflexively on the formal design which constitutes a novel, her protagonists being aware of their roles as manipulators of characters and events, and the narrator commenting on the novels’ structure.’ (The Faith and Fiction of Muriel Spark, Ruth Whittaker, The Macmillan Press ltd, 1982, Hong Kong.page 106)
Whittaker believes that Miss Brodie is attempting to play God in a dangerous and controlling way; she is a feminist manipulator who uses her charm in a frightening manner; ‘give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.'(page9) By taking in the girls as ‘hers’ she is subjecting them to become what her conventional idea of a woman should be on her terms and what will benefit her; for example she uses Mary as a scapegoat and wishes to use Rose to fufil her sexual fantasies which she cannot carry out herself.
Miss Brodie is also compared to Joan of Arc (a national heroine and patron saint of France) : ‘Staring out of the window like Joan of Arc as she spoke.'(page 11)Like Joan of Arc, Miss Brodie is opinionated and dominating. She defies the girls opinions and drills into heir heads that her opinions are actual facts:’Who is the greatest Italian painter?”Leonardo da Vinchi, Miss Brodie.”That is incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favorite. (page 11.)Like Joan of Arc, in many ways Miss Brodie is very masculine, despite her alluring appearance and teaching the girls to be lady like.(This simply echoes many of her contradictions) Sandy, her chosen golden pupil, observes:’Some days it seemed to Sandy that Miss Brodies’ chest was flat, no bulges at all, but as straight as her back.’ (page 11)Sandy presents us with a masculine image of Miss Brodie here, and we see it not only in her appearance but her personality too. She mirrors Mussolini the Italian fascist, and we learn Miss Brodie admires him greatly. She uses words such as ‘intruders’ for school teachers interrupting a class, as if her ‘creme de la creme’ are chosen treaties, or in a biblical sense, her disciples.
‘The Brodie set did not for a moment doubt she would prevail.'(page9) ‘Prevail’ has connotations of a highly authoritative leader like Mussolini, and we see the word ‘assassinated’ used by the author when talking about refusing to move from the school she is teaching at.She says ‘you are mine’ to the girls and even echoes quotes which Mussolini himself said; in a speech he claimed ‘Who betrays, perishes.’ (Fascism in Italy, Bolton King, London, Williams and Norgate ltd, 1931) Miss Brodie tells her girls, ‘where there is no vision, people perish,’ which is similar to Mussolini in her beliefs of loyalty and vision.Not only does this quote convey the political themes within the novel, but it also echoes the Bible,again highlighting her God like figure.
However, it signifies her hypocritical side because fascism was in fact degrading to woman and did not give woman much purpose or any particular strong role. Therefore by imposing fascism ideas on the girls we can see that although she is trying to subvert conventional ideas of her gender, she is actually degrading her girls instead of giving them a chance to be domineering.It is also significant in the way that much of the ‘vision’ that we see is through the small eyes of Sandy, her being the one who betrays her. However, Sandy is a creation of Miss Brodie as we will later expand on, and so ultimately it is Miss Brodie that perishes, in the way that her girls go against her and she is left in mystery as to who betrayed her.
We see the male having a dependency on a woman and this shows this literature has subverted conventional ideas of gender. The male is normally seen as the authoritive figure yet in the novel Mr Lowther is inferior to Miss Brodie: He always looked at Miss Brodie for approval before he touched anything or opened a cupboard Miss Brodie is seen in charge of her men, and her set and so when she loses both, after Sandy betrays her, she is unable to have a conforting life because all of her plans, political and sexual, have been ruined.
Patricia Duncker brings a very interesting perspective of the portayal of woman in ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie;’ the theme of lesbianism. At first, thinking this may seem odd, however when looking at the text more closely we can see reason to believe this. It is the character of Sandy who brings out this theme. Although we learn that Sandy is in the end ‘only interested in putting a stop to Miss Brodie,’ we see her mirror her teacher in several ways and even learn of hints of jealousy with Teddy Loyds obession with Miss Brodie. She says ‘can’t you see she’s ridiculous?’ and when she learns of their kiss she becomes intrigued in a viscious and envious manner, asking intimate details of what Monica witnessed;”what part of the room were they standing in?”Were you inside or outside the room when you saw them?” ‘ ”Was it a long and lingering kiss?” Sandy demanded.'(page 51)She is jealous that she has not been chosen to take Miss Brodies place as Teddy Loyds lover and that Rose has been designated the position, and so she steals him from her and ends up becoming the art masters mistress, essentially acting out Miss Brodies fantasy for her.
She is also ‘fasctinated by her method of making patterns with facts’ (page 44)and, despite feeling guilty when being mean to Mary, she still does so becasue ‘she loves Miss Brodie.’ The conventional idea of the young girl has been totally subverted by the author here; Sandy is supposed to be a young girl with an innocent mind, yet she obsessing over her teachers sex life and knows things like brownies and girls guides are not things she should associate with.We can also view Miss Brodie herself as a lesbian, and her favourite pupil realises the extent of her megalomanice. ‘Sandy thought, the woman is an unconscious lesbian.'(page 120) Mis Brodie cannot sleep with Teddy Loyd, so she send her girls to do so. She cannot sleep with her girls, so she sends them to Teddy Loyd. (Theorizing Muriel Spark, Patricia Dunker,Palrave, New York, 2002, page 69)However Sandy is a creation of Miss Brodie, and so what she does not realise according to Dunker, is her own lesbianism. We see several charactersicts of Sandy similar to Miss Brodie; she realsies that Miss Brodie will stop at nothing to fufill her desire for power.
However, Sandy is exactly the same; she makes sure that Miss Brodie is fired by betraying her to Miss Mackay, her only interest in putting a stop to her. Miss Brodie says several times throughout that there must be ‘a leaven in the lump’ (referring to herself)and then later on says to Sandy ‘I am surprised at YOU Sandy. I thought you were the leaven in the lump,’ conveying the idea that Sandy is in fact a part of Miss Brodie. Even when Sandy is a nun and has betrayed her, she is not comforted or relieved by the end to her teacher, which suggests that she is and always has been in love with her. ”She clutched the bars of the grille as if she wanted to escape from the dim parlour beyond.”(page 43) Patricia Dunker says ‘schoolgirl stories set in womanonly institutions lend themselves to lesbian ambigutities and to the extension of conventional gender roles for girls.
In women-only narratives the usual men’s roles of explorer, adventurer, rescuer, are shared out among the girls. Women are permittted to have adventures and ask nasty questions. They are also permitted to know things.” ( Theorizing Muriel Spark, Patricia Dunker, Palgrave, New York, 2002, page 68) This idea of the female taking on parts of what usually a male role would be puts an interesting take on the novel in terms of the usual conventional ideas of woman. The woman does not only take on a feminine role, for example ‘learning of the advantages to the skin of cleansing cream and witch hazel over honest soap and water’ but also the conventional ideas of the male; of taking control, of playing God like figures, and of sexual fantasies and knowledge.
A third aspect which is relevent to explore when looking at the conventional ideas of woman is one of the outside texts mentioned often within the text itself; ‘The Lady Of Shalott.’ Miss Brodie receits stanzas of this poem to her class throughout the novel:’She left the web, she left the loom,She made three paces thro’ the room,She saw the water-lily bloom,She saw the helmet and the plume,She look’d down to Camelot.’ (page 7)This poem exemplifies the unattanible woman, and deals with themes of tragic love. Artists such as Rosetti (who Miss Brodie also mentions) emphasised tragic aspects of the Ladys’ love and her place as an object of desire. ( http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/tennyson/frauenhofer.html) This part of the poem is from the third section of the poem, where the lady sees the world directly, and therefore must die.
The image of blooming water-lily, the first bite of life the lady directly gazes upon out her window, may represent the Lady herself, interacting with the natural world for the first time. However, the cursed lady cannot exist as a part of this life. The Ladys moment of sexual daring in the poem is also the moment f her downfall. The fact that Miss Brodie quotes this interlinks with her views that a woman should be daring and be exposed to her sexuality, and by reading this to the girls in class conveys that she wishes to impose this idea on her girls. Thus we are presented with a conventional idea of the free, independent, daring woman who is allowed to know things outwith the restrictions of Society ( in the book society is represented by the Marcia Blaine School for girls) and that they should stand virtous and dominating.
This text subverts the conventional ideas of gender as we are presented with young girls who know of things they shouldn’t at their innocent age. We also see a powerful woman figure instead of it being the male. Miss Brodie is in control of all the males in the book and even mirrors Mussolini. We see a woman who talks about men but is unconsciously a lesbian in love with her girls, and as she is able to create her girls, we see them too have aspects of lesbianism within them. In the text we have a clear understanding of the type of woman the author is trying to create and it is certainly a sway from the ‘norm.’
Fascism in Italy, Bolton King, London, Williams and Norgate LTD, 1931The Faith and Fiction of Muriel Spark, Ruth Whittaker, The Macmillan Press LTD, 1982, Hong KongThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark,1961, The Penguin Group, USATheorizing Muriel Spark, Patricia Dunker. Palrave, New York, 2002http://victorianweb.org/authors/tennyson/frauenhofer.html)