Back to the Classics, classic by a woman author

For this category, I picked my first title by Muriel Sparks, and author I wanted to read something from for a long time.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie didn’t disappoint. After, I proceeded to watch the iconic movie, which I have to say kept the disconcerting feeling and mood of the book. The movie is a classic on its own way. It differs from the book yet it stays true to the atmosphere. Both are worth reading and watching.

The book portrays the oppressive times and ways of a small boarding girls school in Edingburg. However, the book is more open ended, and it retains a quality, that of the non linear narration that the movie lacks, which makes this book so intriguing. The book also tells more of the girls than the movie does. What you are told about the future or past, will affect how you understand the narrative in the present. What’ Sparks doesn’t say is more shocking that what she does.

The book felt like forcing me to make my own interpretation of this woman, Miss Jean Brodie. Who is she? Our relationship with her, and how others around her see her, tell us more about them or us than of her. We hear her talk, but she doesn’t speak about her feelings, motives, or reveals any of her inner thoughts. She’s elusive at best, but there’s no duplicity in her. She has strong convictions and she doesn’t challenge them, I believe due to the lack of depth in those around her. She only presents the girls with her ideas about art, life, and politics. And that’s the part that I questioned. Was she honestly exposing her views and encouraging free thinking, or did she manipulate the young minds in a direction she may not have the right to steer them to?

Makes me think about another recent read on the same topic of a school, a headmaster and his ideals, vision, and relationship with his students, his family and staff, and the sons of his former students. It was The Rector of Justin, by Louis Auchincloss. Very different styles though.

I want to keep reading more books by Muriel Sparks. Hopefully, The Only Problem is next. I also would like to read this title a second time and probably get more thoughts or catch more details in it, different nuances. Her books are not too long, and this wasn’t one I’d forget.

6 thoughts on “Back to the Classics, classic by a woman author

  1. I also want to keep reading her books. Muriel Sparks is such an interesting author. I’ve read this one and liked it, but wasn’t wowed…maybe my expectations were too high. I then read The Driver’s Seat which is REALLY strange. Off putting but you won’t forget it anytime soon. Then I read A Far Cry from Kensington which I loved, but probably because it reminded me of Barbara Pym. It was funny but very sharp. I think I would like to try Momento Mori next or The Girls of Slender Means as Kaggsy recommends.

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    • Me too. I want to keep reading her books. The bonus is that they are usually short. It’s the second time today I see Barbara Pym being mentioned favorably. I too take note of The Girls of Slender Means. Her books make an impact on you for sure.


  2. Hi Silvia! I’m (very) slowly catching up on my book blog readings; it was a nice treat to read your take on Miss Jean. As I think we discussed some time ago, when I was getting my own blog going, I had read this one many, many years ago; so long ago in fact that the impact has faded a bit. But only a bit — for me, it’s one of those books that will always stick in my mind. At the time, as I recall, I concluded that Miss Jean was a conscious manipulator; not evil but narcissistic; and that she was indeed steering her charges into some dangerous areas. I’d love to re-read and see what I think of it now! (alas, don’t have the time). I agree with you about the movie — also great, but necessarily lacking some of the novel’s richness (but isn’t that always the case, for us readers?)
    I love Muriel Spark’s work. Since, however, there’s lots and lots of it I haven’t read (she WAS quite prolific) I welcome some of the recommendations I’ve seen in the comments here. I join Ruthiella’s enthusiasm for “A Far Cry from Kennsington” — I absolutely loved it! Although Spark retained her black humor and sharp take on human interactions in that novel, it was, I think, one of her “gentler” works. My absolute favorite, however, of the few of her novels I’ve read, is “Memento Mori.” It really does have more than a touch of Spark’s strangeness, it’s funny (in a black way, of course) and profound.
    Like Ruthiella, I think I’ll go with Kaggsy’s recommendation regarding The Girls of Slender Means! I remember reading reviews when it was published that also spoke of it very highly.

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    • Janakay, a big yes to Miss Jean as a manipulator rooted on narcissism and not a conscious evil. She believed in her truth. But her truth was made up to fit herself. Maybe because those around her appear mean and hypocritical, she retreats into her own form ideals without a reality check. The fact that she was so sure about Mussolini, so much as to ignite those feelings on the poor girl who goes off to Italy and dies in the way, tells us how delusional she is. She’s very enigmatic in a way. Sparks never makes her very unapproachable. I don’t feel I know her, and though I don’t particularly ‘like’ her, I can’t easily dismiss or hate her either.

      I’m going to get to these titles, no matter how long it takes me: Memento Mori, A Far Cry… -that one is very acclaimed by friends, and as you say, I think it’s one of her gentler titles -based on what I heard about it-, and I’ll go with Kaggsy joining you and Ruthiella, and read The Girls … -which my dear friend Lisa also liked-

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