The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
By the time the chapter opens, Miss Brodie’s girls have become students in the Senior school, “a new life altogether”; the Senior school teachers are all very nice, and they treat the girls not as personalities but as students. Miss Lockhart, the science teacher, dramatically opens class by saying she holds enough gunpowder in her hand to blow up the school. The girls appreciate Senior life at first, as well as the dazzling new subjects they study, including geometry and, on the Classical side, Greek. However, a few weeks in, the “party-game effect of that first week” of Senior school instruction fades.
Miss Brodie’s intrusive teaching methods, full of academically irrelevant personal disclosure, give way at the Senior school to impersonal academic instruction. Nonetheless, Miss Lockhart manages to excite the girls with the interest inherent in her subject itself, not with sexually charged worldliness as Miss Brodie did. One might even say that Miss Lockhart “leads out” rather than “intrudes”.
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Miss Lockhart, the Senior school science teacher, is like a mysterious priest to the girls, with her dangerous chemicals and lab equipment. During the first week of the term, the girls conduct an experiment in which they ignited magnesium; Mary is so frightened that she runs in panic from flame to flame until Miss Lockhart calms her down and tells her not to be so stupid.
This scene foreshadows Mary’s death in the hotel fire, some twelve years in the future. Miss Brodie calls Mary stupid to scapegoat her; Miss Lockhart, in contrast, calls Mary stupid for endangering herself by behaving irrationally in the classroom.
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Once, years later, when Rose Stanley is visiting Sandy at the convent, she tells the nun, “‘When any ill befalls me I wish I had been nicer to Mary.’” The narrator immediately shows us once more the scene in which Miss Brodie, dining with Sandy at the Braid Hills Hotel, wonders if it was Mary who betrayed her. “‘Perhaps I should have been kinder to Mary,’” Miss Brodie says on that occasion.
Everyone guiltily wishes they had been kinder to Mary when it is already much too late; the group dynamics of the Brodie set in large part prevent its members from having this epiphany earlier, which is emphasized by the narrative’s juxtaposition of past and present.
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The Brodie set might easily have lost its identity at this time, both because Miss Brodie is no longer a constant presence in their lives, and also because Miss Mackay attempts to break the girls up. She permits Mary, who had wanted to go on to the Classical side but had been unable because of her poor grades, the opportunity to take Latin implicitly in exchange for information concerning Miss Brodie. However, Mary does not understand what Miss Mackay wants of her, thinking all the teachers in league together, “Miss Brodie and all.”
Miss Mackay is not as absolutely upstanding as she first appears: she is willing to do Mary a favor in exchange for information on Miss Brodie, even though the favor might not be to Mary’s benefit educationally. Mary does not understand group dynamics: she thinks all adults are working together, when really political infighting is the norm, perhaps to the girls’ detriment.
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Miss Mackay lays yet another scheme, but this one “undid her.” At the Senior school, there are four “houses” and a system in place that encourages competition between the houses. Miss Mackay places the Brodie girls in different houses as much as is possible, to separate them and force them into competition with one another. Team spirit is greatly emphasized at Blaine.
Miss Mackay hopes that a new group dynamic—team spirit— will dissolve the Brodie set, and that this dissolution will perhaps result in one of the Brodie girls betraying their unorthodox teacher.
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However, Miss Brodie has trained her girls, perhaps in preparation for their separation, to think that team spirit undercuts individualism, love, and loyalty. Miss Brodie also gave the girls examples of women who rejected team spirit, from Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to Helen of Troy, from the actress Sybil Thorndike to the dancer Pavlova. It is impossible to know whether Miss Brodie planned to keep her set together, or if she just worked by instinct, but she succeeds—the girls who had passed through her hands avoid the playing grounds except under compulsion, all save Eunice Gardiner, who is too good an athlete not to compete.
The Brodie girls value individualism thanks to Miss Brodie’s instruction, and ironically it is this common value which holds the girls together as a group.
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On most Saturday afternoons during this period, Miss Brodie entertains her set over tea. She tells them that her new pupils do not have much potential, which makes her girls “feel chosen.” Miss Brodie also inquires about Teddy Lloyd, who teaches the girls’ art class. The girls tell her about their first day, when Mr. Lloyd, irritated by how relaxed and chatty and giggly the girls were, smashed a saucer on the floor and told Rose Stanley, whose profile he seemed to admire, to pick it up. Jenny commented to Sandy when Mr. Lloyd smashed the saucer that Miss Brodie had good taste in men. Upon being told of the incident and what Mr. Lloyd had said of Rose’s profile, Miss Brodie looks “at Rose in a special way.”
As Miss Brodie makes arrangements for the preservation of her girls’ group identity, so does she also make plans for their futures, defining the narrative arcs she wants their lives to take. This is especially the case with Rose, whom Miss Brodie here seems to identify as special, and for whom she later plans a love affair with Mr. Lloyd (perhaps for no better reason than that she and Rose seem to have similar Roman profiles) and that by thus connecting Rose to Lloyd she is asserting her own control over Lloyd.
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The narrator tells us that, since moving on to the Senior school, Sandy and Jenny’s interest in Miss Brodie’s love life has moved from being absolutely sexually charged to being “a question of plumbing the deep heart’s core.” Indeed, now that her mother has given birth to another child and she herself is twelve, Jenny can say with truth that she has moved past interest in sexual research.
Sandy and Jenny’s interest in Miss Brodie becomes more psychologically analytical and insightful because they are no longer obsessed with her sex life. This foreshadows Sandy’s eventual specialization in psychology.
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It is only later, the narrator says fast-forwarding, when Jenny is a forty-year-old actress sixteen years into marriage, that her “buoyant and airy discovery of sex” returns to her, while she is in Rome standing next to a man she didn’t know well. This memory still happily astonishes her, and gives her “a sense of the hidden possibilities in all things.”
It is fitting that Rome, one of Miss Brodie’s favorite cities, is the scene for the middle-aged Jenny’s sexual revival. Indeed, what makes sex so interesting to the young girls in the novel is that it transfigures commonplace things into mysteries, excitements, and for Jenny her experience in Rome really does do this.
Themes
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One Saturday over tea Miss Brodie tells the girls that Mr. Lowther’s housekeeper has left him, and that she disliked the housekeeper anyway because she, the housekeeper, allegedly resented Miss Brodie’s position as Mr. Lowther’s friend and confidante. The next Saturday, Miss Brodie tells the girls that Miss Ellen and Alison Kerr have temporarily taken on the role of housekeepers for Mr. Lowther, and she criticizes them for their inquisitiveness and being “‘too much in with Miss Gaunt and the Church of Scotland.’”
Miss Brodie’s intimacy with Mr. Lowther is scandalous to an extent (it was not socially acceptable for two unmarried people in 1930s Scotland to be sleeping together), which is why she dislikes his watchful, inquisitive housekeepers. She perhaps also wants full control over Mr. Lowther, and resents rivals for his attention.
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In addition to hosting tea on Saturdays, Miss Brodie also sets aside an hour during which she has Sandy and Jenny teach her the Greek they are learning in class. She progresses in the language, although Sandy and Jenny give her different information about the accents. Miss Brodie is determined to share in her special girls’ “new life” and what she cannot influence she scorns, like their instruction in geometry, which she regards as merely, needlessly clever. What need had Sybil Thorndike or Anna Pavlova or Helen of Troy for mathematics, after all?
Miss Brodie’s intellectual appetite, evinced by her learning Greek, is admirable from one angle, but also intrusive from another. She wants to retain her influence over her special girls, and for her this means involving herself in their new academic lives. Although Miss Brodie scorns mathematics, Monica Douglas for one specializes in it, suggesting the limits of Miss Brodie’s influence.
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Nonetheless, the girls are dazzled by their new subjects, and would be until in later years the fields of science and math lost their “elemental strangeness” in the young women’s minds. For now, though, the girls are so dazzled that Miss Brodie struggles to retain influence over her set. She knows that her main concern is ensuring that none of her special girls should become personally attached to any of their senior teachers; but these teachers seem so indifferent to the girls that Miss Brodie refrains from directly attacking them.
As her special girls outgrow her, the commonplaceness of her own life confronts Miss Brodie. The Senior teachers’ indifference to their students as personalities suggests just how perverse and desperate Miss Brodie’s vying for influence over her girls really is.
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In the spring of 1933, Miss Brodie’s Greek lessons with Sandy and Jenny come to an end. The Kerr sisters have begun to enjoy caring for Mr. Lowther and have never been so perky or useful in their lives, especially since the time of their sister’s death (mentioned only here in the novel). Miss Gaunt, who has in a sense taken the place of this dead sister, encourages the two women to make the arrangement with Mr. Lowther permanent.
Miss Brodie’s absence from her girls’ lives is usually motivated by romantic crisis, as here: she fears, not unjustifiably, that one of the Kerr sisters will take her place as the center of Mr. Lowther’s affections,.
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Up to now, Miss Brodie has visited Mr. Lowther at his house in Cramond on Sundays. On that day she also went to church, rotating over time from denomination to denomination, sect to sect. The only church she disapproves of is the Roman Catholic Church, which is perhaps the only church that could have embraced and disciplined “her soaring and diving spirit.” She asserts that it is a church founded on superstition, and she so strongly believes that God supports her no matter what that she feels guiltless about her wrongdoing anyway, even while going to bed with Mr. Lowther.
Miss Brodie has no solid religious convictions, believing more as she does in what might be described as the god within herself. Roman Catholicism, with its dramatic imagery and rituals, is the only branch of Christianity which really could appeal to her, but she dismisses it both because of her own Calvinist background, perhaps, and also because the religion relies heavily on feelings of guilt, which Miss Brodie refuses to have.
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The Brodie girls are exhilarated by their former teacher’s attitude of self-forgiveness, and only in retrospect recognize its amorality. However, even later on, after Miss Brodie has died, Sandy comes to recognize that “Miss Brodie’s defective sense of self-criticism had not been without its beneficent and enlarging effects.”
Miss Brodie’s attitude of self-forgiveness licenses her to behave as she pleases, even immorally. Perhaps Sandy’s recognition of this in part motivates her betrayal. However, Miss Brodie’s effect on her girls is complex, both negative and positive.
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When it becomes clear that the Kerr sisters have permanently taken up housekeeping for Mr. Lowther, Miss Brodie fancies that her lover is getting thin because of their skimpiness in caring for him—in fact, it is Miss Brodie who was getting thin—so she begins going to Cramond on Saturdays to supervise them (this is what ends the Greek lessons). Miss Brodie is encouraged in this action by her special girls, and the Kerr sisters take her “intrusion” meekly. Miss Brodie also invites her girls in pairs up to Cramond on Saturdays to spend the afternoon with her in Mr. Lowther’s residence. The girls notice that Mr. Lowther calls their teacher Jean, a fact they kept to themselves.
The Kerr sisters pose a threat to Miss Brodie’s exclusively receiving Mr. Lowther’s attention, and so she attempts to dispel any influence they may have over him. The narrator tells us that this is an “intrusion,” and in so doing reminds us that Miss Brodie’s influence over her girls also stems from intrusiveness, manipulation, and coercion. It is scandalous that Mr. Lowther calls Miss Brodie by her first name, but the girls loyally keep this fact to themselves.
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Miss Brodie exults in her victory over the Kerr sisters. She attributes it, in a discussion with Sandy and Jenny, to her ancestry. She explains that she is a descendent of Willie Brodie, a cabinetmaker and designer of gallows, a member of the Town Council of Edinburgh with two mistresses who bore him five children between them. Willie was arrested for robbing the Excise Office, motivated not by money but the exciting danger of burglary; he was imprisoned for the crime, and later died on a gallows of his own devising in 1788. This is the stuff Miss Brodie is made of, and accounted in her mind for her victory.
Willie Brodie and his descendant are rather alike; both hold respected positions but lead scandalous, even immoral double lives: Willie as a burglar and Miss Brodie as Mr. Lowther’s lover out of wedlock. Both do what they do, it would seem, not for material gain but for the love of transfiguring one’s commonplace life into a life of danger and excitement and intrigue. And, as Willie dies on a gallows of his own devising, so is Miss Brodie betrayed by a girl she cultivates.
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Sandy begins to consider not only the question of Miss Brodie’s desirability from a man’s perspective, but also whether she could sexually surrender herself to Mr. Lowther, especially given that she is, though thinner than before, nonetheless larger than him. For example, before he touches anything in his home, Mr. Lowther would look to Miss Brodie as if for approval, which leads the Brodie girls to assume that Lowther’s mother had been a rather oppressive woman.
Sandy’s hypothesis that Miss Brodie might not surrender to Mr. Lowther sexually may well be more reflective of Sandy’s own reservations about sex than of anything else, a projection of her own thoughts and feelings. The girls’ psychological insights into Mr. Lowther are never confirmed or dismissed by the novel.
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During the girls’ visits to Cramond, Miss Brodie asks them many questions about Mr. Lloyd, including about his wife Mrs. Deirdre Lloyd and children, while Mr. Lowther eats looking mournfully on, fattening up at Miss Brodie’s insistence. Mr. Lloyd is a Roman Catholic, she explains to Mr. Lowther one day, hence his many children, six in all including lots of babies. Sandy and Jenny report that Mrs. Lloyd is either past her prime or would never have one. At the end of each Saturday in Cramond with the girls, Miss Brodie always makes it seem as if she returned to Edinburgh instead of staying the nights with Mr. Lowther.
Miss Brodie is still in love with Mr. Lloyd, it would seem, hence her questions about him. She may ask these with Mr. Lowther present in order to remind her current paramour of the sacrifice she made for him, thereby consolidating her authority over him in the relationship. The girls loyally dismiss Mrs. Lloyd in Miss Brodie’s own terms: she is not, nor ever will be, in her prime. Miss Brodie’s attempts to hide her affair with Mr. Lowther are obligatory but flimsy.
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While the Brodie girls never discover evidence as to whether or not Miss Brodie stays the night with Mr. Lowther, Miss Ellen Kerr supposes she has: a nightdress allegedly belonging to Miss Brodie stashed under Mr. Lowther’s pillow. At Miss Gaunt’s urging, Miss Kerr tells Miss Mackay about this discovery, but Miss Mackay shrewdly reasons that there is no way to prove that the nightdress does in fact belong to Miss Brodie. Nonetheless, urged on by his sister Miss Gaunt, the parish minister advises Mr. Lowther to withdraw from his positions of choirmaster and Elder at the church. Sandy later learns about the nightdress when she, moved by other considerations, betrays Miss Brodie to Miss Mackay.
The novel never confirms that the nightdress belongs to Miss Brodie (although it is highly likely), contributing to its generally wispy and ambiguous effect. Miss Mackay is not fervid in her attempts to dismiss Miss Brodie, but reasonably and coolly assesses the evidence at hand, here as insubstantial. In contrast, Calvinism is an austere, severe religious orientation: on very little evidence of having an affair, Mr. Lowther is asked to withdraw from his posts by the Calvinist minister.
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One night in the summer of 1933, Sandy and Jenny are at Mr. Lowther’s house at Cramond while Miss Brodie prepares a great ham. She asks them, as she often did, about Mr. Lloyd, and they tell her about two portraits in his studio, an amusingly serious one of his family, and one of Rose Stanley, who has been modeling for him. This is exciting to Miss Brodie, as is the fact that Mr. Lloyd only invites the Brodie girls to his studio. Miss Brodie explains to Sandy and Jenny that this is because these girls were “‘of my stamp and cut.’”
Miss Brodie takes Mr. Lloyd’s interest in her students as evidence that he is still interested in her. She also reveals here that she thinks her influence over the girls has, in a sense, turned them into replicas of her. This passage recalls Sandy’s insight that Miss Brodie is turning her special girls into fascisti, and foreshadows the fact that all faces Mr. Lloyd paints come to resemble Miss Brodie’s.
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On a joint impulse, Sandy and Jenny decide then to run along the beach. When they return to Mr. Lowther’s house, they listen to Miss Brodie speak of her forthcoming holiday to Germany, for she admires Hitler, the Chancellor of Germany at that point, very much, thinking him a prophet-figure and even more efficient than Mussolini. For their summer holidays, Sandy and Jenny go to a farm, where they don’t think much on Miss Brodie but instead make hay and follow the sheep about.
This holiday contrasts sharply with that during which Sandy and Jenny write a love correspondence between Miss Brodie and Mr. Lowther; for here the girls barely think about Miss Brodie at all. Her influence is, to some extent, waning. Miss Brodie is certainly on the wrong side of history in admiring Hitler—her love of the “artisticness” and “efficiency” that are parts of cults of personality are revealed as damaging through the historical monsters she admires.
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