Jean Brodie

8th June 2001 at 01:00
Today, she'd star in 'Big Brother', but in the 1930s, Muriel Spark's heroine in 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' had to make her own drama. Adrian Mourby starts a summer series on teachers in fiction.

So what's all this "prime" business about?

Actually, Jean Brodie has just returned from a summer of having her bottom pinched by a piazza-load of Italians. In the 1930s, not all single teachers went abroad for Sex amp; Sangria so Jean's come back to Edinburgh convinced she's the hottest thing since burnt porridge.

A sort of Sex and the Seat of Devolution then?

To be honest, Miss Brodie is more interested in power than passion. She taunts her former lover (the art master) by taking up with Gordon Lowther, the school's far-from-impressive singing teacher, and spends all day extolling the virtues of Il Duce who, as we all know, was responsible for the pizza man delivering on time in Fascist Italy.

What's this? A teacher who is right-wing?

Jean is a maverick. She doesn't really understand politics. She just follows her instincts and if that means breaking the rules, so be it.

You mean she doesn't get all her schemes of work done or provide annotated evidence?

Even if she'd heard of either it's unlikely she'd bother. Rebuked bythe headmistress, Jean famously replies: "Miss Mackay, you have my sympathy, I had no idea of the mind-numbing pettiness with which you must deal on a daily basis."

Any other quotes?

"The word education comes from the Latin root ex meaning 'out' and duco 'I lead'. To me, education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there and that is not what I call education, that is what I call intrusion from the Latin prefix in meaning 'in' and trudo 'I thrust'."

But she's an inspirational teacher for her kids, right?

Oh yes. Never stops telling her favourites that they are the cr me de la cr me. But don't run away with the myth that the unconventional cop always gets his man and the unconventional teacher always gets the best results. Jean Brodie is a total menace and wholly irresponsible. Her nonsense inspires one impressionable little gel to run off to the Spanish Civil War where she is killed.

But the kids do love her?

Until they see through her, yes. Eventually Jean is betrayed to Miss Mackay by Sandy, one of her favourites, and sacked. This breaks her silly sentimental heart.

Adrian Mourby 'Where Are They Now?' will return in the autumn.

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