Saturday, November 3, 2007

Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

This is a rich book that needs to be conquered─as if one could!─round and around and with noise, as the Israelites conquered Jericho.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve attempted to form a coherent timeline for this novella. This last time I decided that it was easier to do it for One Hundred Years of Solitude than for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. One has to accept that it is a book with neither beginning nor end─but with a thick Byzantine middle. Yet, it is cogent by virtue of its precise flash forwards, flash backwards, and resonant images; the latter acting as anchors in time.

The resonant images are: the elm tree, a walk through Edinburgh, a fire, transfiguration of the commonplace, and the word menarche.

Miss Jean Brodie─the maverick teacher with progressive, or more aptly perilous, ideas─appears on the surface to be a level-headed, vastly informed, and attractive lady. Her presence looms so large that teachers and students alike feel intimidated; even the headmistress is. The reality is otherwise. She teaches her pupils─the Brodie set─to be leaders, the crème de la crème, so that they can “belong to life’s elite.”

She uses the Socratic method to mold heroines, superior women. She wants her pupils to be individualists, to do for oneself and not for the group; that is, team effort be damned. A victim of her times (1930s), she admires Hitler and Mussolini, and it is this spirit of Fascism that she instills in the Brodie set.

What Muriel Spark left behind is a book about negative, autocratic leadership. My way or no way. You are with me or against me. Sandy, her pet pupil, in the end betrays her, and Miss Brodie is fired from her job for misconduct. Because of the very same education she received from Miss Brody, this betrayal was bound to happen. She taught the Set that violence and cruelty were acceptable, discouraging love of neighbor, care, cooperation, harmony─group nurturning.

In Donna Tartt’s Secret History we also see that Julian, an elitist teacher, also attempts to mold superior students. This is an attitude goes back to Plato and Socrates who in The Republic advocated a ruler caste.

The result is that elitist teaching creates monsters. Doesn't it follow that we should be wary of teachers and schools that prepare unfeeling, insensitive, inhuman leaders?

What is a good book for if not to learn from?

First published in 1961, The Prime of Miss Jean, finds itself established as a quirky, and often ill-admired book. Besides the mastery of technique (especially of fictional time), this brief book stands as a negative paradigm of human relations, education, leadership, communication, and motivational insights.
Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn after winning the Downhill World ...
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Lindsey Vonn

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