The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

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Themes and Colors
Authority and Social Groups Theme Icon
Education vs. Intrusion Theme Icon
Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon
Religion, Predestination, and Narrative Structure Theme Icon
Insight, Instinct, and Transfiguration Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Theme Icon

The Brodie set’s transition from childhood to adulthood is marked primarily by changing attitudes toward sex: we follow Sandy, for example, from the time she and Jenny gossip about sex and, writing as Miss Brodie in a fictional letter, absurdly, hilariously congratulate Mr. Lowther on a good sexual performance, all the way into her eighteenth year, when she and Mr. Lloyd have an affair. But perhaps Sandy’s sexual curiosity is too prematurely and too violently stimulated by Miss Brodie, for even as a young girl she privately develops an ambivalent, even antagonistic attitude toward sex, even imagining herself on a police force with the mission of putting a stop to all sex in Edinburgh altogether.

Miss Brodie, on the other hand, relishes her sexuality; she often reminds her students that she is in her prime, a reference to the height of her energy and beauty and desirability as a woman. She pledges these years, her very best, to romantic involvements, first to Mr. Lloyd, then to Mr. Lowther—the latter affair sparking a scandal within her rather sexually repressive Edinburgh community. Ms. Brodie is not prepared to settle down and marry Mr. Lowther, however, and she is punished with ostracization and persecution at Miss Gaunt’s hands, among others. Her most faithful lovers are Mr. Lloyd who paints her obsessively and her girls, who are in ways canvasses that take on her image. In the end, though, all Miss Brodie has to show for her prime are memories of her own charisma and influence, made bittersweet by Sandy’s betrayal of her, which may be in part motivated by a complex of sexual revulsion, resentment, and repressed homoerotic attraction on Sandy’s part, all directed toward Miss Brodie.

The narrator takes pains to make it clear that Miss Brodie is not merely an eccentric, isolated phenomenon, but rather that there are many spinsters like her in Edinburgh. This claim amounts to an indictment of the sexual repression of the Edinburgh community as a whole, which makes it socially difficult for women to fulfill themselves outside of married life. Miss Brodie’s girls who marry tend to shake her influence, as Rose and Monica and Jenny do—but Sandy alone, who vows herself to chastity as a nun, bears profoundly Miss Brodie’s spirit.

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Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood appears in each chapter of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Below you will find the important quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie related to the theme of Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood.
Chapter 2 Quotes

‘Miss Brodie says prime is best,’ Sandy said.
‘Yes, but she never got married like our mothers and fathers.’
‘They don’t have primes,’ said Sandy.
‘They have sexual intercourse,’ Jenny said.

Related Characters: Sandy Stranger (speaker), Jenny Gray (speaker), Miss Jean Brodie
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Brodie often tells her pupils that she is in her "prime," by which she means that she is at the peak of her allure, charisma, and influence. A woman's prime, we infer, is the most important and powerful time in her life, personally, professionally, and sexually. Miss Brodie tells her students to anticipate and recognize their primes. Here, Sandy and Jenny, two of the Brodie set, discuss their parents in the context of primes and sexual experience. 

This exchange reveals that Sandy and Jenny have intuited that Miss Brodie's prime is somehow related to sexuality. In trying to define the relation between sex and a prime, they agree that their parents do not have primes. However, they do "have sexual intercourse," which in itself strikes the girls as "a stupendous thought." They are both struck by the fact that Miss Brodie is in her prime, but is not married. She is a spinster at the peak of her sexual charisma, which seems contradictory to Sandy and Jenny. Indeed, Miss Brodie's affairs with married and unmarried men alike will be the among the dramatic centers of the text. 

This discussion of sex is complicated when Sandy speculates on Mr. Lloyd's newborn baby, saying that the infant is proof that Mr. Lloyd "committed sex with his wife." By saying "committed," Sandy further reveals her ambivalence towards sex by framing it with criminal language.


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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…

Related Characters: Sandy Stranger
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, we get our first glimpse into Sandy's complicated feelings about passion and sexuality. She is daydreaming about having dinner with Alan Breck (a famous historical figure) but is disturbed at the possibility that a dinner would lead to something more. She thinks to herself that being swept away must be avoidable. People must have a moment to think about it before romantic passion takes over them.

Then, Sandy thinks that the act of taking "clothes off" would be rude enough to "put off...passion for a moment." In addition to revealing her discomfort with the idea of sex and passion, this thought is amusing and reveals how young and inexperienced Sandy is.

Finally, this passage reveals Sandy's strong anxieties surrounding passion and the loss of self-control. Sandy 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).

Chapter 3 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Sandy Stranger, Mr. Teddy Lloyd
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Teddy Lloyd is, along with Mr. Lowther, one of two male teachers at the school whom the Brodie set intuit has feelings for Miss Brodie. Here, he is giving an art lesson to the students while Miss Brodie watches. He shows the students a painting of a Madonna and Child without any religious awe - only a "very artistic attitude." This surprises the religious girls, and Sandy notices that Mr. Lloyd seems to be "seeking [Miss Brodie's] approval" of his attitude.  

This brief instant confirms Miss Brodie's assertion that she is in her "prime," as well as fanning the flames of sexual curiosity that run unchecked through the Brodie set. Mr. Lloyd's art lesson is ironically less focused on teaching the girls about art and more interested in gauging Miss Brodie's thoughts, which, we see here, overlap with Mr. Lloyd's. They are a "god" and "goddess" above the young heads of their pupils.

This consideration on Mr. Lloyd's part is a very subtle form of courtship, and the fact that Sandy notices it suggests that she has been primed to take an inappropriate interest in Miss Brodie's personal relationships, which, of course, she has. Miss Brodie speaks frequently about her deceased first great love, who, like Mr. Lloyd, was a soldier. Immediately after the lesson, Monica Douglas tells the Brodie set that Mr. Lloyd kissed Miss Brodie. The idea seems impossible to them, but they soon become obsessed with it.

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.

Related Characters: Sandy Stranger, Jenny Gray, Miss Ellen and Alison Kerr
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

To understand the significance of this quote, we must remember the earlier sewing lesson scene, when Miss Brodie was present. In that scene, Miss Brodie read aloud to her pupils from Jane Eyre as they sewed, and the girls pricked their fingers so that there would be blood on their work. This earlier scene had an erotic, charged atmosphere that is noticeably lacking in the scene introduced in this quotation. 

In this scene, Miss Brodie's absence drains the "sexual significance" from everything. The weakened erotic charge is completely snuffed out by the complimentary presence of Miss Gaunt, whose very name suggests the "grim realism" her presence evokes. 

Later in the text, we learn that Miss Brodie took the leave of absence illustrated here to carry out an affair with Mr. Lowther (as a means of distracting herself from her true passion for Mr. Lloyd). The Brodie set is uniquely attuned to their own sexuality as well as Miss Brodie's, and here we see a different version of the authority and social grouping that has occurred throughout the text.

The Brodie set is still sensitive to the erotic fluctuations caused by Miss Brodie even when she is not present. She maintains her authority over them by priming their sexual curiosity (such as reading Jane Eyre to them) and her pull is strong enough that they define their mood even by her absence. 

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.

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie, Sandy Stranger, Jenny Gray, Hugh
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Miss Brodie has just been speaking about a familiar subject - her lost love, Hugh, who died in the war. However, her story is different this time. For "the first time," Miss Brodie tells the girls that Hugh was an artist - a painter, in fact. It is no coincidence that Mr. Lloyd, her most recent passion, is also a painter.

Sandy and Jenny realize that Miss Brodie is making "her new love story fit the old." In this moment, we see Sandy's ambivalent feelings towards Miss Brodie's manner of living. 

First and foremost, Sandy is "fascinated" by Miss Brodie's willingness to treat her own life as a narrative, and to mold the structure to fit her whims. However, Sandy is also struck by a "need to prove Miss Brodie guilty of misconduct." This need will come to motivate many of Sandy future actions - not least her final betrayal of Miss Brodie. Her desire to expose and punish the guilty is also related to her conflicting feelings towards sex and sexuality, as well as her eventual conversion to the Roman Catholic church. Miss Brodie is playing loosely with the facts of her sexual history, and Sandy resents this.

Chapter 5 Quotes

‘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.’

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie (speaker), Sandy Stranger, Rose Stanley
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Miss Brodie is speaking to Sandy in the fall of 1931. Sandy is in her early teenage years and Miss Brodie is in the heyday of her affair with Mr. Lowther. The Brodie set is maturing into themselves, and Miss Brodie here takes it upon herself to claim that, out of all the girls, she only has "ambitions" for two of them: Sandy and Rose. She chooses these two girls because she feels they represent the two greatest characteristics a woman can have: insight and instinct. 

Sandy has insight, which Miss Brodie defines as intellectual ability and analytical penetration. Rose, on the other hand, has instinct, which here means physical appeal, grace, and erotic power. Miss Brodie conceives of herself as having both insight and instinct, and so we might see her trying to recreate the whole of herself in two spiritual daughters, each of whom is half of her.

It's a mistake, of course, that Miss Brodie should place so much trust in Sandy and Rose. Eventually, Rose will cast off her influence and Sandy will betray her.  

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.

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie, Sandy Stranger, Mr. Teddy Lloyd
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Sandy has a revelation about Miss Brodie's self-elevation as well as Miss Brodie's grand plan for Sandy and Rose. Miss Brodie is a glamorous woman, committed to the idea of a life transfigured and elevated by passion and extraordinary actions. To this end, Miss Brodie has "elected herself to grace" so that she might best control and determine her own fate as well as the fates of her set. She wants to plot the lives of her students like a novelist, or a predestining God.

However, Sandy sees that this control and manipulation is merely an "exotic" version of common actions taken by "other spinsters." While those less imaginative women might "take to drink" to numb the bleakness of their daily lives, Miss Brodie instead finds escape and fantasy in her plans for herself and her girls. The method is different, but the root causes are the same. 

We also see the first explicit sketch of Miss Brodie's plan for her two most promising girls - the insightful Sandy and the instinctive Rose. Miss Brodie wants Rose to begin an affair with Mr. Lloyd - to act as Miss Brodie's erotic proxy. Sandy's job will be to inform Miss Brodie about the affair in satisfying detail. Although she pretends to have elevated ambitions for the "creme de la creme" of her girls, Miss Brodie's actual plan is a sordid, disturbing anticlimax. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie, Sandy Stranger, Mr. Teddy Lloyd
Related Symbols: Mr. Teddy Lloyd’s Portraits
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Lloyd has become a secondary figure of obsession for Sandy, mainly because he is so clearly infatuated with Miss Brodie, a feeling with which Sandy can't help but empathize. The portraits that Mr. Lloyd paints of the Brodie set have one thing in common: they all look like more like Miss Brodie than their true subjects. Sandy reports this to Miss Brodie, who is predictably pleased with the information. She called herself Mr. Lloyd's Muse, and goes on to speculate on when Rose will take her place as the artist's muse, a veiled reference to the affair that Miss Brodie is attempting to orchestrate. 

Here, we see Sandy grapple openly with a way of understanding Miss Brodie and pinning her down. Sandy is known for her "insight" - her ability to analyze clearly and deeply - and here, we can read her attempts to define Miss Brodie as a way of wrestling control away from her teacher. If she can classify Miss Brodie, then Miss Brodie will lose some of her magnetic power. 

First, Sandy thinks that Miss Brodie has put herself in the position of God. She controls her pupil's fate like the Calvinist God of predetermination, or like an author manipulating characters into pleasing and dramatic narratives. Sandy's next idea - that Miss Brodie is an "unconscious lesbian" - may well be a psychological projection. Sandy herself seems to have homoerotic feelings for Miss Brodie. Her thoughts then become more vague, as she cycles through "many theories" in an attempt to define Miss Brodie. Sandy is ultimately unsuccessful, however, as none of her analytical thinking can erase Miss Brodie from Mr. Lloyd's canvases, and by extension, from his mind as well as Sandy's. 

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.

Related Characters: Miss Jean Brodie, Sandy Stranger, Mr. Teddy Lloyd
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

Despite Miss Brodie's plans for Rose and Mr. Lloyd to have an affair, it is actually Sandy who begins sleeping with Mr. Lloyd. She does so for several reasons. Mr. Lloyd and Sandy share an obsession with Miss Brodie, which Sandy can use to manipulate Mr. Lloyd (every time she points out that he has accidentally painted Miss Brodie, Mr. Lloyd kisses her). Also, Sandy has long wanted to thwart Miss Brodie's deterministic plans, and becoming Mr. Lloyd's lover in Rose's place is an efficient way of derailing Miss Brodie's attempts to manipulate her life. 

However, as her affair with Mr. Llody continues, Sandy loses interest in "the man himself." Instead, she is consumed by her efforts to understand "the mind that loved [Miss Brodie]." Again, we see "insightful" Sandy throwing the full force of her analytical powers into trying to understand Miss Brodie and the effects she has on people. 

In the course of her study of Mr. Lloyd, Sandy "extract[s]" his religion. Mr. Lloyd is a Roman Catholic. Eventually, Sandy becomes a Roman Catholic nun. Sandy may take an interest in Roman Catholicism for a number of reasons. Perhaps she feels guilty about her affair with Mr. Lloyd and thinks that she can most effectively repent as a Roman Catholic. Or, more persuasively, perhaps she is defying Miss Brodie’s influence by turning to Roman Catholicism, a faith where one cannot just dismiss one’s own guilt as Miss Brodie seems to do. Another option is that in becoming Roman Catholic she becomes like the man whom Miss Brodie loves. Or perhaps it is some messy combination of all of these things.