The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a cleverly-crafted book whose action constantly moves backwards and forwards in time between the early 1930s and the post-war period. We see the lives of Miss Brodie and her pupils at Edinburgh's Marcia Blaine School over an extended period of time and so become aware of the enduring effect the charismatic schoolmistress has had on those she taught.
Meaning is condensed in a tight, concise writing style. This is evident in the many humorous touches where a casual aside may speak volumes: the school's mademoiselle 'was pronouncing French in a foreign way which never really caught on'; and there is the long division sum which Miss Brodie 'always kept on the blackboard in case of intrusions from outside during arithmetic periods when Miss Brodie should happen not to be teaching arithmetic'.
The portrayal of Miss Brodie's teaching style is excellently done, conveyed by mere snippets of information: the girls are aware of the meaning of the word 'menarche' and 'the existence of Einstein'. The setting of day-to-day school life against the background of momentous international events such as the rise of Fascism and Nazism and the Spanish Civil War is also a very subtle device. It reveals Miss Brodie's sympathies for Nazism and Fascism and her admiration for Mussolini and Hitler, and it brings home to us the fascist and authoritarian aspects of Miss Brodie's own personality.
We are invited to speculate on the very nature of the charismatic leader. Miss Brodie is sincere in her wish to develop her pupils' minds, broaden their horizons, and help them experience all the possibilities on offer in the world. However, we increasingly see the manipulative and power-seeking side of her personality, drawing our attention to the insidious way would-be dictators work themselves into positions of influence. It reminds us of the fine line between the energetic and inspiring creativity of many charismatic leaders and their capacity to act in an evil and destructive way.
Above all, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a novel that reminds us how little we understand our own and others' emotions and motivations. No attempt is made to trace the psychological factors that have formed Miss Brodie's personality, and although we are constantly reminded of her enormous influence in shaping the lives of her girls there is no attempt to explain the workings of that influence.
In short, then, this slim novel is an extemely diverse one: not only does it entertain us with it sharp witticisms and racy style, it also educates us about the politics of the 1930s, makes us ponder the nature of charisma and power, and leads us to reflect on the enormous and unfathomable complexity of human beings.
A sublimely funny book .... It is a book to be read by all ... unforgettable and universal
... the richness of the characters and the dialogue makes this very short book crackle with electricity and life
... while it's enjoyable it's not life changing literature
Intermittent Rain (www.librarything.com)
... this book is a joy to read and is both funny and sad
Ka Fu (www.amazon.co.uk)