Friday, August 11, 2006

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

This book, by Muriel Spark, was a recent read. I picked up the suggestion from several of the lit-bloggers I read, and I read it just to see what it was like, because, frankly, I am unfamiliar with most of the books they discuss. (There is a great deal of reading and discussion about newer novels, and since I don't have easy access to most of them, I just read the blogs out of general interest.)

But I found this book at Massolit, and decided to give it a try. Because of my particular interest in educational philosophy, the fact that the book is set in a school gave it an added appeal.

What I found here was a perfect example of a teacher imposing her personality on a group of students. They are young enough (10 and 11) when she begins with them to be flattered by her special interest, and much too naive to detect anything improper in her influence. She maintains her position of dominance with them for several years, influencing their school lives to such a degree that they do not participate in the general life of the school (sports, teams, etc...) and have only each other for friends. She manipulates them and their out-of-school activities to a great extent as well.

The whole scenario reminded me of Charlotte Mason's warning about a teacher imposing her personality on her students, rather than letting their own personalities blossom and interact with hers. In the book, the teacher is seen only through the eyes of her students, and as an onlooker, I found it difficult to see what they found so compelling and fascinating about Miss Brodie.

In the end, they chafed to be free of her influence, and one of them secretly betrayed her so that she was forced to retire. Later in life, those who seem to be the happiest are those who are able to shrug off her influence. Not all of them were able to fully do so, and when the girls meet, their conversation inevitably returns to Miss Brodie. It appears to me that Miss Brodie was aware, all along, that she wasn't acting in the girls' interests but in her own. It's hard to be certain, because Muriel Spark only shows us Miss Brodie through the girls' eyes.

One other point interested me. It appears that Miss Brodie held the girls' attention and interest in the beginning by offering them titillating knowledge and information about the world and her personal life, rather than teaching them general knowledge such as they should have been learning. She appealed to their interests through the avenue of illicit knowledge--such as Eve was tempted by Satan--and starved their minds and hearts from the real knowledge they should have gathered at school.

I don't recommend this book, and frankly, have no real interest in pursuing other books by the same author, but it has been a case of learning something, even from a book that you don't like!


At 8:28 PM , Blogger Mama Squirrel said...

I've been reading some of the In Memoriam book published after Charlotte Mason's death, and wondered this--do you think CM was herself able to avoid having this kind of influence on people? Do you think she might have had that personal dominance in her students' lives, even if she hadn't intended to? How do you draw the line between peoples' general admiration and the point where it becomes undue influence?


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