The Prime (or Tragedy) of Miss Jean Brodie

The book begins with an introduction to the “Brodie set”, who are “recognizable as Miss Brodie’s pupils”. Each of them, we are told, is famous in school.

But before we get carried away with the impression that they are indeed the “creme de la creme”, as Miss Brodie describes, we discover that when they turn sixteen, they aren’t likable in school and are regarded with suspicion. Hence, their fame is of the infamous kind. So what has led the girls to gain such a notorious reputation? “Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life,” says Jean Brodie, our eponymous character. We wonder if the outcome of girls’ lives and characters are indeed the work of Miss Brodie.

Miss Brodie seems to have effectively charmed and seduced her girls. She takes them into her confidence. These “special girls”, will be taken to her home for tea and bidden not to tell anyone. The girls understand the internal feud between the headmistress of the school and Miss Brodie. They have come to recognize that the allies of the headmistress are, therefore, their enemies. Miss Brodie and her girls seem unbreakable, their allegiance to each other is impenetrable. When Miss Mackey, the headmistress, plans a scheme to break up the Brodie set, it fails.

The Brodie set’s loyalty is forged in a single belief, and that is Miss Brodie. They idolize her, almost as if she were a god.

Told in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, we are given clues that Miss Brodie’s prime will eventually come to an end. The story comes with a twist and her plan to dominate the minds of her girls comes to a bitter end. “You will receive the fruits of my prime”, says Miss Brodie and she promises that the fruits will “remain with (them) in all (their) days”. It is, however, a betrayal with which Miss Brodie will be paid back. She will be doomed to a loveless and lonely life. Her relationship with the girls proved to be fragile after all. It takes her many years later, when she is near death, that she will finally come to realize it was her favorite girl, Sandy, who has betrayed her. The heroine isn’t as formidable as we thought her to be. “Whatever possessed you?” says Miss Brodie to Sandy, at her moment of anagnorisis.