The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator says that Miss Brodie is not unique at this point in her prime, and that there are “legions of her kind during the nineteen-thirties,” progressive spinsters interested in art and social welfare, assistants with the Scottish Nationalist Movement, feminists who spoke with men man-to-man. Miss Brodie is unique only in that the women like her aren’t, for the most part, schoolteachers, who tend to be of a “more orderly type.” Miss Brodie is also unique because she trusts herself to change her mind and learn, even on ethical question—even in her prime Miss Brodie is developing, growing.
That Miss Brodie is not an isolated phenomenon suggests that her interests may stem from some fundamental cause shared by other spinsters—perhaps a Calvinist upbringing, perhaps a general feeling of being commonplace and unfulfilled. We are uniquely interested in Miss Brodie not because of her interests, then, but her influence. Spark’s portrait of her is subtle, though: coercive as Miss Brodie is, we also admire her desire to enlarge her own perspectives and those of her students. We admire her passion.
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The narrative reopens in 1931, a year into Miss Brodie’s prime. For the girls in the Brodie set, sex is at this time the be-all and end-all. A suntanned Miss Brodie opens the term by discussing her trip to London and Italy, praising Mussolini as “‘one of the greatest men in the world.’” Miss Mackay enters the classroom and encourages the girls to have a good year.
The girls’ sexual maturation parallels Miss Brodie’s immersion into European culture and fascist politics. Given the evils perpetrated by Mussolini’s regime, Miss Brodie’s praise for him reads as a warning against making dogmatic historical judgments and perhaps as a warning against Miss Brodie’s own tendency to create a group centered around her own charisma.
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After Miss Mackay leaves her classroom, Miss Brodie restates that an education is a leading out, calls Mary “‘stupid’” for not knowing what the word “nasally” means, and exults over having seen the Coliseum in Rome where gladiators hailed Caesar, among other things. She also gives the girls apples from Mr. Lowther’s orchard. The only thing, it would seem, that Miss Brodie doesn’t do is to discuss history, which is what her girls are supposed to be studying.
Though Miss Brodie is a woman intent on personal growth, she is also rather repetitive, as her again giving the definition of “education” suggests. In this way, Spark reveals to us Miss Brodie’s limitations. The apples from the orchard hint at the love affair to come between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lowther, and also recall the forbidden fruit the Biblical Adam and Eve ate of in Eden that gave them knowledge of good and evil.
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Even before the official opening of her prime, Miss Brodie’s colleagues at the Junior school had been turning against her—all save Mr. Gordon Lowther and Mr. Teddy Lloyd, the only men on the staff. Both “were already a little in love with Miss Brodie,” and have subconsciously begun to act as rivals for her attention. The girls in the Brodie set realize that Mr. Lowther and Mr. Lloyd are romantically interested in their teacher before Miss Brodie herself does.
Miss Brodie’s charisma influences not only her pupils, but also the men in her life. That the Brodie girls perceive this before Miss Brodie herself suggest that their teacher may be a bit romantically inexperienced, even naïve.
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Though Mr. Lowther and Mr. Lloyd look like one another, both having red-gold coloring, “habitual acquaintance” proves otherwise. Mr. Lloyd, the art master, is more handsome and more sophisticated, rumored to be half Welsh, half English. He paints with his right arm; he lost his left during World War I.
Mr. Lloyd, like Miss Brodie’s first love Hugh, served in World War I, which makes him all the more romantic, even heroic in Miss Brodie’s mind, as does the fact that he has an artistic nature.
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Miss Brodie’s class has up to this point had only one opportunity to size up Mr. Lloyd closely, during an art lesson with Miss Brodie in attendance. The scene is this: Mr. Lloyd is tracing with his pointer the lines of a painting by Botticelli, the Primavera; the schoolgirls can’t suppress their laughter when he traces the lines of the painted ladies’ bottoms. Miss Brodie calls the girls “‘Philistines’” (that is, ignorant of artistic value). Sandy continues laughing and Miss Brodie chastises her. Mary also continues laughing; she would not have laughed at all had the other girls not laughed, “for she was too stupid,” the narrator says, “to have any sex-wits of her own.” Nonetheless, Miss Brodie takes Mary by the arm and shuts her out of the room.
“Primavera” refers to the season spring; the word also contains the same root that makes up the word “prime.” As such, we might read this scene as Mr. Lloyd making romantic overtures to Miss Brodie, who is of course in her prime, the spring of her life, as it were. The two adults consider the painting with detachment, however, whereas the girls don’t see the painting as art so much as a representation of sexualized content. Again, Mary’s giggling is misunderstood here and Miss Brodie scapegoats her.
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Mr. Lloyd then continues the lesson, turning to a painting of Madonna and Child without any sense of religious awe, only a “very artistic attitude,” which surprises the religious girls. He turns to Miss Brodie to see if she approves of this attitude, and she smiles “as would a goddess with superior understanding smile to a god.”
Mr. Lloyd’s lecture on the paintings ironically seem less designed to educate the students in his class than to elicit from Miss Brodie her attitudes toward sex, religion, and art. Based on Miss Brodie’s smile, the two have similar attitudes.
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It is not long after this that Monica Douglas reports to the Brodie set that she saw Mr. Lloyd kiss Miss Brodie. The other girls don’t really believe her, however, and question her over details, like when the kiss occurred, where, and how long it lasted. Sandy, most dissatisfied with Monica’s account, reenacts the kiss several times to test its plausibility. When Miss Brodie enters the classroom during the fourth of these reenactments, she asks Sandy what she was doing. “‘Only playing,’” the girl says.
It is scandalous that the married Mr. Lloyd should kiss Miss Brodie, which is perhaps why the girls refuse to believe that the two did kiss. The kiss must be especially shocking to Sandy, who earlier says that Miss Brodie is above sex. Just as Sandy reenacts the kiss here, attempting to understand Miss Brodie’s mind, later she will have an affair with Mr. Lloyd as a way of getting closer to or understanding Miss Brodie.
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All through the term till Christmas, the Brodie set continues to question whether Miss Brodie is capable of being kissed and kissing They decide, at last, to keep the incident a secret. Meanwhile, Miss Brodie changes: she wears newer clothes and an amber necklace, and the girls watch her belly for signs of swelling.
Miss Brodie’s love life ironically obsesses her students, when they should be focused on academics instead. Nonetheless, they protect her out of a sense of loyalty by keeping the scandalous kiss a secret.
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The other Junior teachers have begun to say good morning to Miss Brodie more graciously at this time as well, but still with an edge of scorn. The only two teachers who do not judge Miss Brodie at all are the two sewing teachers, Miss Ellen and Alison Kerr, who think all of their colleagues who teach academic subjects to be “above criticism.” During her class’s sewing lessons, Miss Brodie reads aloud from the novel Jane Eyre while her girls, listening, prick their thumbs “so that interesting little spots of blood might appear on the stuff they were sewing.”
Just as her students are disliked by their peers, so too is Miss Brodie, unorthodox as she is. The Kerr sisters don’t judge Miss Brodie, but Miss Brodie later “betrays” them by ruining their romantic prospects with Mr. Lowther. The image of the girls pricking their fingers is sexually charged, as is the novel Jane Eyre; Miss Brodie draws her students’ attention by manipulating their sexual feelings.
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Singing lessons with Mr. Lowther are different now, for Miss Brodie seems agitated before, during, and after them; she also wears “her newest clothes on singing days.” Sandy continues to disbelieve that Monica had seen Miss Brodie kiss Mr. Lloyd; in fact, only Rose, who is not at all and never will be curious about sex, believes Monica. However, later in the nineteen-fifties, when Monica visits Sandy at the convent and comments once again that as a girl she had seen Mr. Lloyd kiss Miss Brodie, Sandy says, “‘I know you did.’”
Though Miss Brodie presents herself as unconventional, she breaks social rules in the most conventional way, by having love affairs. This lowers her, it would seem, in Sandy’s imagination, but as a girl Sandy refuses to give up her idealization of Miss Brodie.
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The narrative shifts back in time: Sandy knew about the kiss even before Miss Brodie tells her about it one day after the end of the war in the nineteen-forties. Sandy and Miss Brodie are eating at the Braid Hills Hotel; Miss Brodie has been forced to retire by this point and is by her own admission past her prime. She tells Sandy that Teddy Lloyd had loved her greatly, but that she had renounced him because he was married, even though the two share what Miss Brodie calls “‘the artistic nature.’”
This narrative shift starkly shows what Miss Brodie’s prime comes to: termination, impotence, and bittersweet memories. Nonetheless, Miss Brodie’s renunciation of Teddy Lloyd is distinctly admirable, idealistically tragic and romantic—and we should certainly might imagine that she took some pleasure in the tragic grandeur of making such a renunciation, in that it was the sort of gesture that might make her life feel like something out of art, like art itself.
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During this post-war meal with Sandy, Miss Brodie also recalls the time when in the autumn of 1931 she took a leave of absence, seemingly on account of illness. In her place, the gaunt Miss Gaunt taught her class—far more rigorously and demandingly, to the girls’ shock. Even the sewing teachers Miss Ellen and Allison Kerr felt cowed by Miss Gaunt. Sandy and Jenny used to giggle watching the shuttles of the sewing machines go up and down, which reminded them of sex, but Miss Gaunt’s presence “had a definite subtracting effect from the sexual significance of everything.”
We later learn that Miss Brodie took this leave of absence to carry out a love affair with Mr. Lloyd. Miss Gaunt is, like Miss Lockhart, a foil to Miss Brodie, in subtracting from rather than adding to the sexual charge of her pupils. It is perhaps for this reason that Miss Gaunt exerts a much weaker imaginative draw on the girls than Miss Brodie does.
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Sandy recalls to herself that, during one sewing class, Miss Gaunt discussed her brother with Miss Ellen and Allison Kerr, who was the minister of the parish church the three women attended—a fact which made the Kerr sisters nervous around Miss Gaunt. Meanwhile, Sandy was daydreaming about being in love with Mr. Edward Rochester, a character from the novel Jane Eyre. She was distracted when Miss Gaunt mentioned that Mr. Lowther was not at school that week, ill like Miss Brodie.
Miss Gaunt and the Kerr sisters are the foremost Calvinists in the novel, and their belief in predestination influences their somber, quiet demeanors. Sandy, on the other hand, seems at this point a disciple of Miss Brodie’s religion of self-election, guiltlessness, and sexualized gaiety.
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Sandy further recalls to herself that, to break up the sexless gloom imposed by Miss Gaunt, she hypothesized with Jenny that Miss Brodie was having a love affair not with Mr. Lloyd but Mr. Lowther, and Jenny in particular imagined how the two teachers would initiate sexual intercourse together. They paused their conversation when Eunice Gardiner came over, for Eunice had “taken a religious turn,” albeit a short-lived one, and therefore “was not to be trusted”.
Sandy’s hypothesis is insightful indeed. Perhaps a Brodie-Lowther affair is tolerable to her imagination at this point, as the idea of a kiss between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lloyd is not, because Mr. Lowther is for now unmarried. The girls bond over sexual curiosity and excitement, hence Eunice’s temporary exile from the Brodie set on account of her religious turn.
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The narrative returns to the nineteen-forties, to the meal Miss Brodie and Sandy are sharing at the Braid Hills Hotel. Miss Brodie goes on to tell Sandy that, since she renounced Mr. Lloyd, the love of her prime, she began an affair with Mr. Lowther as a cure. Sandy doubts, however, that this is the whole story. As the meal progresses, Miss Brodie eventually returns to wondering which of the Brodie set betrayed her, thereby forcing her to retire. Was it Mary? Rose? “It is seven years, thought Sandy, since I betrayed this tiresome woman. What does she mean by ‘betray’?”
Part of Sandy’s insightfulness lies in her suspiciousness: she doesn’t take on face value what Miss Brodie tells her. Perhaps she suspects that Miss Brodie renounced Mr. Lloyd because he expected physical intimacy (after all, Sandy later hypothesizes that Miss Brodie is an unconscious lesbian)—we can only speculate. We learn for the first time here that Sandy is Miss Brodie’s betrayer.
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Back in 1931, after her two weeks’ absence, Miss Brodie returns to her teaching post, thereby relieving Miss Gaunt of her duties. Mr. Lowther’s singing class goes on as usual, Miss Brodie now playing the accompaniment on the piano. Mr. Lowther no longer plays with Jenny’s curls. Sandy is almost sure that Mr. Lowther loves Miss Brodie and that Miss Brodie loves Mr. Lloyd. The narrator also foreshadows here, although only vaguely, that Rose Stanley later becomes involved in the love affair between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lloyd.
It seems that Mr. Lowther originally played with Jenny’s curls as a means of being romantically suggestive to Miss Brodie, which he ceases to do because he and Miss Brodie are now involved with one another, with no need for flirtation-by-proxy. Later, Miss Brodie plans for Rose to become Mr. Lloyd’s lover in her place, foreshadowed here.
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During the Easter term, the Junior girls have to decide whether they will study on the Modern or Classical side at the Senior school. Miss Brodie, insisting the girls’ make the choice of their own free will, insinuates a strong preference for the Classical side.
Hypocritically, Miss Brodie tells the girls to make up their own minds, but at the same time plants her ideas and prejudices in their heads.
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Only Eunice from the Brodie set considers going on the Modern side. Eunice is too pious at this time for Miss Brodie’s liking. When she opts to go to a social gathering rather than accompany Miss Brodie and the set to the Empire Theatre to watch the world famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova dance in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Miss Brodie criticizes Eunice for allegedly misusing the word “social”, and implies that Eunice would be missing out on watching “‘a great moment in eternity.’” All that term Sandy daydreams about dancing with Anna Pavlova.
Miss Brodie does not want Eunice to have interests that may lead her to break her loyalty to the Brodie set, hence her disapproval of Eunice’s religiousness; she hypocritically praises independent thinking so long as one’s independent thoughts align with her own. Pavlova is one of Miss Brodie’s models of a composed, independent, artistic woman; to Miss Brodie, art transfigures time.
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The narrative rapidly shifts forward to a few weeks before Miss Brodie’s death. She is in a nursing home and learns then from Monica Douglas that Sandy had gone to a convent to become a nun. Miss Brodie wonders whether Sandy did that to annoy her, and also wonders whether it might be Sandy who had betrayed her.
Miss Brodie reveals massive egotism in thinking that Sandy’s decisions revolve around her. But such a thought is not entirely misguided, and Miss Brodie is correct in at last thinking that Sandy is her betrayer.
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The narrative jumps back to the Easter (spring) term of 1931, when the girls are deciding whether to go to the Modern or Classical side. Miss Mackay, at that point the headmistress, who favors the Modern side, invites Sandy, Jenny, and Mary over for tea, to discuss the decision with them. Mary’s grades are too low for her to go to the Classical side, which makes her despondent given Miss Brodie’s preference for the Classical. Despite Miss Mackay’s appeals, Sandy and Jenny also opt for the Classical side, and their grades permit it.
For all her unorthodox methods and progressive, even radical perspectives, it is perhaps strange that Miss Brodie favors the Classical over the Modern. It seems she does so because the Classical promises intellectual grandeur and enlargement, whereas the Modern is more practical and commonplace. The girls favor the Classical largely because Miss Brodie does, and for no better reason.
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Miss Mackay then begins speaking generously of Miss Brodie, with the goal of pumping incriminating facts about her out of Sandy, Jenny, and Mary. Miss Mackay asks about the girls’ cultural interests, which Mary reports to be stories. When the headmistress goes on to ask what subjects Miss Brodie discusses in her stories, Sandy and Jenny, too readily, as though with premeditation, reply “‘History.’” After Miss Mackay excuses the girls, they report back to Miss Brodie some but not all of this conversation.
Miss Mackay searches for incriminating facts about Miss Brodie throughout the novel, and succeeds in finding them only when Sandy betrays her most influential teacher. Here, however, the quick-witted Sandy and Jenny loyally protect Miss Brodie from Miss Mackay’s scrutiny. And yet: that they don’t tell Miss Brodie absolutely everything suggests that while the girls are loyal they have their tactical secrets, too.
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Toward the end of the Easter holidays, Jenny is walking out alone by the Water of Leith (a river in Scotland), when a man calls her over and exposes his genitalia to her. She runs away unharmed, unpursued, to be soon surrounded by horrified family members. A policewoman comes in to question Jenny about the incident.
This episode recalls Sandy’s thought that seeing someone undressed might stop up the flow of passion, and it relates metaphorically to secrecy and exposure in the novel. Perhaps Miss Brodie exposes too much of herself for Sandy to love her, hence the betrayal. Sandy’s thought about nakedness getting in the way of passion is also just funny, and indicative of her youth and mindset.
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These events cause quite a stir among the Brodie set. Sandy, just on the verge of obtaining permission to take walks alone, is denied permission after all. However, the events also provide the girls much to discuss: namely, the man who exposed himself and the policewoman. Indeed, Sandy stops daydreaming about Alan Breck and Mr. Rochester and instead falls in love with this policewoman, whom she questions Jenny about with enthusiasm. Sandy is troubled, though, that the policewoman in real life pronounced the word “nasty” as “nesty.”
Sandy, at last, identifies more with the policewoman who protects against sexual exposure than the sex-propagating Miss Brodie. Perhaps Sandy dislikes that the policewoman says “nesty” because Sandy herself, with her English vowels, would say “nasty,” and in this one detail Sandy’s idealization of the policewoman clashes with the reality.
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Nonetheless, Sandy continues to daydream about serving on the Force with the policewoman, whom she names in her imagination Sergeant Anne Grey. Sandy, picking up police jargon by reading the Sunday paper, pretends to be on the Force with Sergeant Grey, with the mission of eliminating sex altogether. Sandy even confides in her imaginary partner that the two need to look into Miss Brodie’s “‘liaison with Gordon Lowther.’” Sandy and Jenny also begin composing a fictionalized love correspondence between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lowther.
Sandy’s eventual betrayal of Miss Brodie has its roots here, in her disapproval of Miss Brodie’s sexuality, her self-exposure. This disapproval, however, is for now private; in public, as when in Jenny’s company, Sandy nonetheless giggles about sex and even imagines what Miss Brodie’s affairs are like. It won’t be until she pulls away from the group identity of the Brodie set that Sandy becomes capable of betraying Miss Brodie.
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Back at school after the Easter holidays, Sandy and Jenny keep secret the “Water of Leith affair”; one morning Sandy even goes so far as to ask Jenny to keep it a secret from Miss Brodie. Her reasons for this request are motivated by something that happened earlier that day: Miss Brodie specifically sent Rose to help Mr. Lloyd carry art supplies back to the classroom and it occurred to Jenny and Sandy that Rose looked different. They speculated that she had had her first menstrual cycle. The girls end up forgetting about the man who exposed himself and focus more and more on the policewoman as the term went on.
Sandy seems to associate the Water of Leith affair with her own imaginary role as an investigator of sex. Perhaps she does not want to tell Miss Brodie about the man who exposed himself, then, because doing so would, if only to her mind, blow her cover. Now that Rose has had her first menstrual cycle and in doing so become “mature”, she also becomes an object of investigation for Sandy.
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During the last few months of her teaching the Brodie girls at Blaine, Miss Brodie makes “herself adorable”—no bickering and no irritability save with Mary. Class is often held outside on benches under an elm, and Miss Brodie elaborates on her love story with the soldier Hugh, claiming for the first time that he was also a talented singer and painter: “I think the painter was the real Hugh,’” she says. It becomes clear to Sandy and Jenny, as they discuss it alone, that Miss Brodie was fitting her old love story about Hugh to her new one involving Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Lowther. Sandy admires this narrative technique, but also feels a “pressing need to prove Miss Brodie guilty of misconduct.” That spring, we also learn from the narrator, Jenny’s mother is expecting a baby.
Miss Brodie attempts to solidify her influence over her special girls by making herself adorable in their final months together. The imaginative Sandy admires Miss Brodie’s creative embellishments on the facts of her life, but seems convinced now more than ever that she must put a stop to Miss Brodie’s love affairs—a conviction rooted in Sandy’s deeply conflicted attitude toward sex itself.
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During a short vacation, while visiting Jenny’s aunt in the coastal town of Crail in the Scottish region of Fife, Sandy and Jenny complete their fictionalized love correspondence between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lowther. At the mouth of a cave, they have written the last of it, where they struggle to put their teacher “in both a favourable and an unfavourable light.” They have imagined a sexual encounter between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lowther set on a storm-embattled Scottish peak called Arthur’s Seat, and conclude their series of letters with one in which the fictionalized Miss Brodie declines Mr. Lowther’s marriage proposal and, among other things, congratulates her lover “‘warmly upon [his] sexual intercourse, as well as [his] singing.’”
Looking back on their almost two years as Miss Brodie’s pupils, Sandy and Jenny neither worship nor dislike Miss Brodie, but have matured into an ambivalent attitude toward her. Their imagining of sexual intercourse reflects more the high erotic tenor of the novels they’ve read than any firsthand experience, and their sexual naiveté is underscored humorously in their having Miss Brodie congratulate Mr. Lowther on his sexual performance. The cave the girls are in is a vaginal image, Arthur’s Seat a phallic one.
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After completing the love correspondence, Sandy and Jenny read it from end to end, and wonder whether they should cast it out to sea or bury it. They at last decide to bury it, “and never saw it again.” They walk back to Crail then, full of plans and joy.
This scene is in a sense a metaphor for Sandy and Jenny’s maturation: they bury childhood imaginings, preparing for sexual maturity and life in the Senior school.
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