Miss Brodie can identify and transfigure common girls into extraordinary women, or such is her hope, anyway. She also has a pressing desire to experience transcendence, through art, sex, even radical politics—and transfiguring her girls so that they bear her image and so that she can in a small way guide their fates is her only real means of transcending the littleness of her life. Calvinism is a central context here: Miss Brodie reacts so strongly against its doctrine of predestination, where one cannot transfigure much less transcend one’s destiny, that she goes so far as to elect herself to grace and plays a kind of secular God of Calvin in electing and transfiguring her girls into the “the crème de la crème.”
Miss Brodie has two criteria for election (and has good insight into who possesses these, for her girls tend to be among the brightest at Blaine): insight and instinct. Insight has to do with imaginative exuberance and psychological penetration, exemplified by Sandy; instinct has to do with sexual and social charisma, exemplified by Rose. Miss Brodie claims to possess both these qualities herself, although we might question her psychological astuteness: after all, she thinks Rose a carnal girl, when Rose has no interest in sex for the most part; Miss Brodie also thinks that she can trust Sandy absolutely, when Sandy is the Brodie girl least loyal to her in the end. Indeed, the novel as a whole seems in some ways to test or question the value of psychological insight: its pages are largely devoid of psychological analysis of its characters, as though such analysis were incidental to understanding its characters. As such, we, as readers, are forced to be the psychologists, to map what characters say and do to their reasons and motivations, especially in regards to Sandy’s decision to betray Miss Brodie, which goes unexplained in the novel and is only gestured toward and skirted around.
Ultimately, Miss Brodie’s attempts to transfigure the commonplace fail. Rose doesn’t sleep with Mr. Lloyd as Miss Brodie plans, Miss Brodie’s students pursue commonplace careers as typists and nurses, and Sandy in the end betrays her teacher. Without girls to sculpt and without the arts in her life as represented by Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Lowther, Miss Brodie more and more has nothing to do with herself but obsess over the last great drama of her life which transcends mere schoolteaching, namely her betrayal; and so ends her prime. Sandy, for her part, reacts so radically against Miss Brodie she turns (like Spark herself) to Catholicism, which locates the human desire for transfiguration within the ritual of the Holy Communion, where bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. This position—of reserving transfiguration for sacred as opposed to secular life—is one the novel privileges over Calvinism and, relatedly, Miss Brodie’s self-election to grace.
Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration ThemeTracker
Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
‘I am putting old heads on your young shoulders,’ Miss Brodie had told them at that time, ‘and all my pupils are the crème de la crème.’
‘It has been suggested again that I should apply for a post at one of the progressive schools, where my methods would be more suited to the system than they are at Blaine. But I shall not apply for a post at a crank school. I shall remain at this education factory. There must be a leaven in the lump. Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.’
‘But safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth and Beauty come first. Follow me.’
Sandy looked back at her companions and understood them as a body with Miss Brodie for the head. She perceived herself, the absent Jenny, the ever-blamed Mary, Rose, Eunice, and Monica, all in a frightening little moment, in unified compliance to the destiny of Miss Brodie, as if God had willed them to birth for that purpose.
Mussolini had put an end to unemployment with his fascisti and there was no litter in the streets. It occurred to Sandy, there at the end of the Middle Meadow Walk, that the Brodie set was Miss Brodie’s fascisti, not to the naked eye, marching along, but all knit together for her need and in another way, marching along.
And if people take their clothes off in front of each other, thought Sandy, it is so rude, they are bound to be put off their passion for a moment. And if they are put off just for a single moment, how can they be swept away in the urge? If it all happens in a flash…
Miss Brodie stood in her brown dress like a gladiator with raised arm and eyes flashing like a sword. ‘Hail Caesar!’ she cried again, turning radiantly to the window light, as if Caesar sat there.
Sandy caught his [Mr. Teddy Lloyd’s] glance towards Miss Brodie as if seeking her approval for his very artistic attitude and Sandy saw her smile back as would a goddess with superior understanding smile to a god away on the mountain tops.
The shuttle of the sewing machines went up and down, which usually caused Sandy and Jenny to giggle, since at that time everything that could conceivably bear a sexual interpretation immediately did so to them. But the absence of Miss Brodie and the presence of Miss Gaunt had a definite subtracting effect from the sexual significance of everything, and the trepidation of the two sewing sisters contributed to the effect of grim realism.
It is seven years, thought Sandy, since I betrayed this tiresome woman [Miss Brodie]. What does she mean by ‘betray’? She was looking at the hills as if to see there the first and unbetrayable Miss Brodie, indifferent to criticism as a crag.
This was the first time the girls had heard of Hugh’s artistic leanings. Sandy puzzled over this with Jenny, and it came to them both that Miss Brodie was making her new love story fir the old… Sandy was fascinated by this method of making patterns was facts, and was divided between her admiration for the technique and the pressing need t prove Miss Brodie guilty of misconduct.
It was twenty-five years before Sandy had so far recovered from a creeping vision of disorder that she could look back and recognize that Miss Brodie’s defective sense of self-criticism had not been without its beneficent and enlarging effects; by which time Sandy had already betrayed Miss Brodie and Miss Brodie was laid in her grave.
‘Do you know, Sandy dear, all my ambitions are for you and Rose. You have got insight, perhaps not quite spiritual, but you’re a deep one, and Rose has got instinct, Rose has got instinct.’
She [Sandy] began to sense what went to the makings of Miss Brodie who had elected herself to grace in a particular way and with more exotic suicidal enchantment than if she had simply taken to drink like other spinsters who couldn’t stand it any more.
It was plain that Miss Brodie wanted Rose with her instinct to start preparing to be Teddy Lloyd’s lover, and Sandy with her insight to act as informant on the affair. It was to this end that Rose and Sandy had been chose as the crème de la crème.
She [Miss Brodie] thinks she is Providence, thought Sandy, she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end. And Sandy thought, too, the woman is an unconscious lesbian. And many theories from the books of psychology categorized Miss Brodie, but failed to obliterate her image from the canvases of one-armed Teddy Lloyd.
The more she [Sandy] discovered him [Mr. Lloyd] to be in love with Jean Brodie, the more she was curious about the mind that loved the woman. By the end of the year it happened that she had quite lost interest in the man himself, but was deeply absorbed in his mind, from which she extracted, among other things, his religion as a pith from a husk.