The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Mary Macgregor, though she lives to be twenty-four years old, never realizes that Miss Brodie only shares her love story with her pupils. A year after World War II began, Mary joins the Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service); she is incompetent in the service and much blamed. She meets her first and last boyfriend during this period, a corporal, who ends up deserting her. Thinking back to see if she had ever been happy, it occurs to Mary that it was those first years with Miss Brodie in the nineteen-thirties, listening to her stories and opinions, that had been the happiest time of her life—even though Miss Brodie had called Mary “‘such a clumsy girl’” and treated her condescendingly. Mary would later die during the war, while on leave, in a hotel fire.
That Mary thinks her days as a young girl were the best of her life speaks to a stunted emotional life, which can be attributed to Miss Brodie’s educational methods, at least indirectly. Furthering this irony is the fact that Miss Brodie and the other Brodie girls so mistreat Mary. This instance of prolepsis (flash-forward) indicates just how far off Miss Brodie’s promises to her girls are from the reality—the plans of Junior school teachers, and Miss Brodie herself, often go awry, it would seem.
Themes
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Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon
Religion, Predestination, and Narrative Structure Theme Icon
Sandy Stranger, while Miss Brodie’s pupil, also has a feeling that her childhood is supposed to be the happiest time of her life, and on her tenth birthday she tells Jenny Gray as much. The two girls agree that unlike Miss Brodie their parents didn’t have primes, only sexual intercourse, which “was still a stupendous thought” to them, one they “had only lately lit upon.” Sandy goes on to say that Mr. Lloyd, the one-armed Art master to the Senior girls at Blaine, has just had a baby, and she infers from this that “‘he must have committed sex with his wife.’” While the girls continue discussing sex together, Sandy’s English mother (all the other schoolgirls’ mothers are Scottish) enters the room and asks if all is well, only to be driven away by a ferocious glance from Sandy.
Even though Miss Brodie tells her girls to anticipate and recognize their primes, she also creates an atmosphere which suggests not just to Mary but also to Sandy that their time with her should be their prime. Miss Brodie does not want her girls to have lives of their own, it would seem, but rather wants them to validate and vindicate her own (possibly somewhat stunted) life. Sandy talks about sex as though it were a crime (“‘committed sex’”), which suggests that she has been exposed to sex prematurely and which also foreshadows her invention of Sergeant Anne Grey in Chapter 3.
Themes
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Sandy then pulls out a notebook stashed away in her room, the first page of which bore the title “The Mountain Eyrie.” The notebook holds a story written by Sandy and Jenny about Miss Brodie’s dead lover Hugh, whom the girls have imagined to be alive. In the story, Hugh returns from the War and seeks out Miss Brodie, only to be told she has taken another lover. In turn, Hugh flees to an eyrie in the mountains, where Sandy and Jenny come upon him; he holds both captive. The story leaves off at the point at which Jenny escapes, Hugh pursues her, and Sandy tells him that Miss Brodie has not in fact taken another lover.
Miss Brodie stimulates her students’ imaginations in ways inappropriate to their age. They develop sexual curiosity and unhealthy perspectives on erotic behavior, as the story about Hugh bears witness to: his taking the girls captive is inexplicable, but also seems sexually charged. This is yet another way that Miss Brodie binds together her special girls’ group identity: they are bound together by premature sexual curiosity.
Themes
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Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon
Sandy and Jenny resume work on the story, describing how the fictionalized Hugh flings Sandy away to pursue Jenny. The girls discuss the prospect of publishing their story when in their primes, then pretend to be witches, plan on going to an art gallery together to see the statue of a naked Greek god, speculate that Miss Brodie will escort them, and agree that she (Miss Brodie) is above sex. It is soon time for Jenny to go home. As she and her mother leave, Sandy looks out the window and wonders if Jenny shares her feeling of living a double life.
The unhealthiness of the girls’ perspective on erotic behavior is revealed more fully here: the masochism of Hugh flinging Sandy in the girls’ story, their premature and sexualized desire to see the statue of the naked god, and their privileging of Miss Brodie’s not having sex over having sex. Sandy is living a double life in multiple senses: she is a young girl with premature exposure to sex, and she plays out a fantasy life in “The Mountain Eyrie.”
Themes
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The narrative shifts to Miss Brodie’s classroom. It is close to the end of the school day, and Miss Brodie is reciting Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott.” Sandy, leading her double life to stave off boredom, is daydreaming that the Lady of Shalott herself has written the poem she exists in with white paint left out “‘by some heedless member of the Unemployed”; also that the Lady tells her, Sandy, that she is to be “‘ill-fated in love.’” Upon this, Sandy cries out in alarm in real life. Miss Brodie asks if Sandy is in pain, tells the girls that composure is one of a woman’s best assets, and then supports her case by gesturing to a print of the ever-composed Mona Lisa (a painting by da Vinci).
Miss Brodie wants to be the author of her own life, to transfigure her life into a work of art, which perhaps explains why she’s so unorthodox and why her ideals for human conduct so often come from works of art like the Mona Lisa. Sandy, with her active imagination, lives as if in a work of art, interacting with the Lady of Shallot for instance, but at the heart of her fantasies is Miss Brodie: the Lady speaks of the Unemployed, but we later learn that this is a phrase Sandy picked up from Miss Brodie.
Themes
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Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
Miss Brodie invites Sandy to recite some poetry with her famous half-English vowels, and the narrator informs us that by this point Rose Stanley is not yet famous for sex. In fact, it is Eunice Gardiner who broaches the subject of sex with Sandy and Jenny by pointing out a sexual phrase in the Bible, which induces them to threaten to tell on her. Jenny, however, is famous at this point for her prettiness and her singing. Indeed, the long-bodied, short-legged, red- and gold-haired Mr. Lowther, the girls’ singing teacher, sometimes twitches her ringlets as she sings, even while Miss Brodie looks on.
Even though both Sandy and Jenny have sexually charged imaginings, they are nonetheless resistant to explicitly sexual content like the phrase Eunice points out in the Bible. Nonetheless, the girls themselves are beginning to receive sexualized attention, like Mr. Lowther’s playing with Jenny’s ringlets, which he seems to do out of excessive sexual energy, and as a means of subtly signaling sexual desire to Miss Brodie.
Themes
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One day after singing class, Miss Brodie gathers her class about her and tells them, “‘You girls are my vocation… I am dedicated to you in my prime.’” She then instructs the girls to walk in the composed manner of Sybil Thorndike (a famous English actress); Sandy does so to such an extent that Miss Brodie thinks her walk a parody and chastises her for having “‘a frivolous nature.’”
Miss Brodie acts as though her prime endows her with something not unlike divinity, and yet, ironically, she dedicates her prime to teaching school as many women not in their prime can do. This suggests her desire for uniqueness and the frustration of this desire: she is, from one perspective, commonplace.
Themes
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Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon
Back at the classroom, Rose Stanley reports to Miss Brodie that she (Rose) has ink on her blouse; Miss Brodie sends her to have it removed by the science teacher to the Senior girls, Miss Lockhart. Sandy even goes so far once in a while as to intentionally spill ink on her clothing at carefully calculated intervals because she so enjoys going to Miss Lockhart’s classroom, where she once saw a lesson in progress that had such order and discipline and productivity that it deeply impressed her as opposed to the freedom of Miss Brodie’s class. After Rose, in the present case, returns to the classroom, Miss Brodie asserts that “‘art is greater than science.’”
Miss Lockhart is Miss Brodie’s foil: academically disciplined, she is not so much interested in her students’ personalities as their scientific progress and proficiency. Sandy, it would seem at this point, would rather learn new content from Miss Lockhart than learn yet more about Miss Brodie’s personal life. Miss Brodie’s privileging of art over science is in one sense a maneuver to discredit Miss Lockhart, perhaps out of a sense of professional and personal insecurity.
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This is in 1931, during the first of two winters that the girls spend with Miss Brodie, who has already selected her favorites, the girls who would make up the Brodie set, whom she swore to secrecy before telling them about her personal life and professional feud with Miss Mackay.
Miss Brodie elects her special girls while they’re young and impressionable, perhaps to maximize her influence over them, the extent to which she can “transfigure” their lives and make them in her image.
Themes
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Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
Eunice Gardiner is at first very quiet, and it is strange that she joins the Brodie set at all. Eventually, though, she amuses her peers and Miss Brodie herself by doing cartwheels on the carpet. Miss Brodie calls her “‘an Ariel’” (a spirit in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest). After that, Eunice becomes chatty and continues to entertain, though she is not allowed to do cartwheels on Sundays “for in many ways Miss Brodie was an Edinburgh spinster of the deepest dye.”
Despite her radical politics, love of art, and willingness to disclose her love life to her students, Miss Brodie is in many ways just as conservative as other Edinburgh spinsters. She is not so unique as one might first be persuaded to believe. The reason she prohibits cartwheels on Sundays is because that is a Christian day of somber rest.
Themes
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Some twenty-eight years after she did the splits in Miss Brodie’s apartment, Eunice, who has become a nurse and married a doctor by now, tells her husband while the two are at home one evening that when they visit Edinburg for the Festival he should remind her to visit Miss Brodie’s grave. The two proceed to discuss Miss Brodie, whom Eunice claims “‘was sane as anything.’” She also tells her husband that Miss Brodie died after World War II, after being betrayed by an unknown member of the Brodie set and forced to retire.
The second of the novel’s major prolepses (flash-forwards). Eunice seems to live a conventional life, which perhaps surprises us given Miss Brodie’s expectations for her special girls. Although Eunice clearly has some affection for the deceased Miss Brodie, she doesn’t seem as deeply influenced by her. Though it is Sandy who betrays Miss Brodie, it is also Sandy who seems, ironically, most deeply influenced by her former teacher.
Themes
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Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
The narrator says that it is now time to discuss a long walk Miss Brodie leads her favorites on through the old parts of Edinburgh, one Friday in March. Sandy is walking alongside Mary Macgregor because Jenny is absent from the outing. Sandy is daydreaming about assisting Alan Breck, a Scottish rebel whom Sandy is familiar with after reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Kidnapped. Miss Brodie encourages Mary to speak with Sandy, but Mary says that Sandy won’t speak with her. Miss Brodie replies, “‘Sandy cannot talk to you if you are so stupid and disagreeable.’”
Even more so than her story about Hugh, Sandy’s daydream about Alan Breck is sexually charged. Nonetheless, her active imagination anticipates Miss Brodie’s praise, that Sandy is insightful and deep, if not spiritual. Sandy is rude to Mary here, a behavior she seems to have acquired from Miss Brodie herself..
Themes
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As they walk, Sandy nags at Mary for staring at an Indian student, then for lagging behind and for having poor posture. When an impulse to be kind to Mary comes over her, Sandy hears Miss Brodie’s voice, which “arrested the urge.” Sandy understands then that the girls are a body with Miss Brodie at the head, obedient to the destiny of Miss Brodie herself, “as if God had willed them to birth for that purpose.” She becomes frightened of being kind to Mary then, since doing so would separate her from the group. She resumes nagging Mary “with the feeling that if you did a thing a lot of times, you made it into a right thing.”
One of Miss Brodie’s most pernicious methods for securing her special girls’ group identity is by turning Mary into a scapegoat; having a common outlet for their aggression and adhering to the same social code as pertains to Mary bonds the girls together. Miss Brodie acts like a god, to Sandy’s mind, ordaining the fates of her special girls.
Themes
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The Brodie set and Miss Brodie arrive at the Meadows, a large public park, where they pass a group of Girl Guides, or Girl Scout Brownies. Miss Brodie’s students ask her about whether they should join the Brownies and Guides, but she implies that it is not for the crème de la crème. Sandy recalls to herself just then Miss Brodie’s admiration for Mussolini’s marching troops, the fascisti, whom Miss Brodie has a picture of. Mussolini and his fascisti had put an end to unemployment, Sandy recalls, and it also occurs to her that the Brodie set is like Miss Brodie’s fascisti, and that the Girl Guides are too much of a rival fascisti for Miss Brodie to bear. Sandy thinks about joining the Brownies for a moment before “group-fright seized her again…she loved Miss Brodie.”
Sandy speculates that the kind of harmful psychology at work among the Brodie set—scapegoating and “group-fright”—is also at work in bonding a mob to a charismatic fascist leader like Mussolini. This suggests the dangers of Miss Brodie’s methods, a danger more fully revealed when Miss Brodie later urges Joyce Emily to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Miss Brodie requires absolute loyalty, at least as Sandy perceives it, which is why Miss Brodie dismisses of the Girl Guides. Sandy’s thinking about joining the Brownie’s foreshadows her eventual betrayal of Miss Brodie.
Themes
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The girls and Miss Brodie pass through the slums of the Old Town, then to the great square of the Grassmarket. Miss Brodie comments that the Scots owe a lot to the French. As they walk, Sandy feels as though she’s in a different country, full of new smells, new shapes, and poor people. The girls hold hands nervously; they see a man proposing to a woman, ringed in by a crowd. Throughout her life, speaking with other people raised in Edinburgh, Sandy is shocked to think about how little she has seen of Edinburgh, how little she has seen of the nineteen-thirties.
As coercive and hypocritical as Miss Brodie may be, she is also genuinely intent on providing her girls with new experiences and a broader perspective on life. She is well traveled, well versed in history, and has a European as opposed to a narrowly local perspective. In contrast, even as a grown woman Sandy has seen relatively little in her lifetime. If only Miss Brodie’s influence were more forceful in this particular direction.
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Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
The narrative flash-forwards: Sandy, in middle age, is a nun called Sister Helena. She has published a famous psychological treatise, “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace,” and is therefore allowed, as no other nuns are, to have visitors. A young man visiting her, speaking with her through a grille, asks her about her formative influences—the poets W.H Auden or T.S. Eliot? the Spanish Civil War? Calvinism (a branch of Christianity)? Sister Helena responds that it is none other than Miss Jean Brodie.
The novel’s third major instance of prolepsis (jump forward in time). Sandy, more than any other Brodie girl, is profoundly influenced by her former teacher, and this influence lasts a lifetime (even though it is embodied in part by Sandy’s reaction against Miss Brodie). The juxtaposition of this scene with the walk through Edinburgh emphasizes that, perhaps unfortunately, Miss Brodie’s influence drives Sandy not out into the world’s largeness but into cloistered seclusion.
Themes
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Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
The narrative shifts back to the long walk Sandy and the rest of the Brodie set are having with Miss Brodie through Edinburgh. As they pass St. Giles’s Cathedral, the narrator explains that the girls, brought up per several different Christian denominations, once asked Miss Brodie about religion and she, though “adhering to the strict Church of Scotland habits of her youth,” introduced atheism to them, which she herself had learned about having recently taken a course in comparative religion at the University.
Miss Brodie not only shows her girls new places and exposes them to broader historical perspectives, but she also shows them new spiritual perspectives. The Church of Scotland is Calvinist in orientation; Miss Brodie is not so much an atheist herself, but, as Sandy later thinks, someone who thinks herself to be the predestining God of Calvin.
Themes
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The walk now has brought the girls and their teacher to Chambers Street. There Miss Brodie explains that she and Miss Mackay are scheduled to meet, presumably because Miss Mackay wants to question Miss Brodie’s methods of instruction. Miss Brodie explains to the girls that her conception of education, from the Latin roots e ‘out’ and duco ‘lead,’ is a leading out of what is already in a girl’s soul. In contrast, she describes Miss Mackay as intruding into girls’ minds. Miss Brodie also tells the girls that Miss Mackay has accused her of putting ideas into her students’ heads. “‘Never let it be said that I put ideas into your heads,’” she instructs them before quizzing the daydreaming Sandy on what education is.
Miss Brodie does not lead out what is already in a girl’s soul as she claims to do: she certainly intrudes, as when she dogmatically insists that Giotto is a superior painter to da Vinci, or even here, when she tells the girls never to let it be said that she put ideas into their heads – isn’t this command itself an intrusive idea? Compare the etymology of “education” which Miss Brodie gives with Mussolini’s title, Il Duce, which means “The Leader.”
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The walk continues. Rose Stanley points out a French car; Miss Brodie chastises her for having a mind “‘full of motor cars’” and for not paying attention to her conversation. Sandy, meanwhile, is fantasizing about dinner with Alan Breck, but is disturbed to think of being passionately swept away into having intercourse with him. Surely people have time to think before being swept away, she wonders. She also imagines that it would be rude for people to take their clothes off in front of one another, which she hopes prevents them from getting swept away by passion. The narrator goes on to state that Miss Brodie would later be amazed, awed, and enthused by Rose’s playing the role of the great lover, during that time when she became famous for sex. Miss Brodie is not explicitly speaking to the girls about sex just yet, however.
Sandy’s fantasies are romantic in nature, but here we have the first indication that she is uncomfortable with the idea of being overwhelmed by passion, and also with the idea of sexual intercourse in general. She highly values thinking, and does not want to be intellectually incapacitated by passion. Her thoughts here also relate to her feelings for Miss Brodie: earlier on the walk Sandy thinks to herself how she loves Miss Brodie, but it also seems that she is afraid of being swept away by her, of losing her identity to her, of losing her self-control. In one sense, Sandy’s betrayal of Miss Brodie is an act of recovering herself from passion (which would also make sense as Sandy eventually becomes a nun).
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Miss Brodie continues speaking of Miss Mackay, defending her own methods, encouraging her girls to study hard for their end-of-term examinations, and claiming that no one could accuse her of impropriety unless one of her girls betrayed her and distorted the truth. Rose says, “‘Miss Mackay has an awfully red face, with the veins all showing,’” but Miss Brodie chastises her, saying it would be disloyal were she, Miss Brodie, to permit talk like that of her superior.
Even early on, without provocation, Miss Brodie is preoccupied with the prospect of getting betrayed, which perhaps indicates that she feels, if only subconsciously, guilty of impropriety. Her protection of Miss Mackay is a model of loyal conduct for her girls.
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As the walkers arrive at the end of Lauriston Place, they see a line of unemployed men. Miss Brodie explains the men were waiting for their share of money from the labor bureau, which some would spend on drink instead of food for their families. Miss Brodie tells her girls to pray for these men, and reminds them that Italy had no unemployment problem. Sandy becomes frightened looking at the unemployed men, then thinks of their starving children and wants to cry. She wishes Jenny were with her, “because Jenny cried easily about poor children.” Sandy turns to Mary then and tells her to stop pushing, even though Mary claims not to be pushing at all.
As monstrously effective as Mussolini may have been in rooting out unemployment, this passage starkly presents the psychological and moral harm done by the mob mentality on its members. When Sandy becomes afraid and is moved by the plight of the unemployed men’s children, her first impulse is to cry with a friend. However, this gentler companionship is denied her, and Sandy instead braces herself and reinforces her group identity by lashing out without cause against Mary.
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The long walk is over. Sandy decides not to go to Miss Brodie’s for tea, but instead takes the tramcar home. Later, however, when she thinks about Eunice doing somersaults and splits in Miss Brodie’s kitchen, she wishes she had gone to tea after all. She then takes out her notebook which holds “The Mountain Eyrie,” the “true love story of Miss Bean Brodie,” and adds a chapter to it.
Sandy’s identity as a member of the Brodie set wavers throughout the novel: she doesn’t want to go to tea, and then she wants to; she wants to avoid being swept away by Miss Brodie, but obsesses over Miss Brodie’s love life. This wavering makes it psychologically plausible that Sandy should at last betray Miss Brodie.
Themes
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Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon