The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The headmistress of Blaine, Miss Mackay, never gives up on indirectly pumping the Brodie girls for incriminating evidence on Miss Brodie, but now, seven years into their friendship with her, the girls cannot incriminate their former teacher without incriminating themselves at the same time. One time Miss Mackay tries to trick Sandy into betraying that Miss Brodie drinks too much. But Miss Brodie really doesn’t drink much at all, and Sandy says as much.
The girls’ loyalty to Miss Brodie is now almost absolute, because were they to incriminate her now they would also incriminate themselves, perhaps of not saying anything sooner. Miss Mackay is grasping at straws in suggesting Miss Brodie drinks too much; she is becoming desperate, and Sandy knows it.
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One of Miss Brodie’s greatest admirers is Joyce Emily Hammond, a very rich and delinquent girl sent to Blaine as a last resort (she does not act like a delinquent at Blaine, however). Because Joyce Emily has been enrolled in and ejected or removed from so many schools recently, her parents request that they not buy Blaine uniforms for her till a trial period has elapsed. This is granted, and so Joyce Emily goes about in dark green while the other girls wear deep violent. She boasts of having five sets of discarded uniforms in her closet, along with hair she cut from one of her past governess’s heads, a post office savings book taken from a past governess, and a burnt pillowcase which Joyce Emily set fire to while a governess’s head rested on it.
Joyce Emily is an outsider at Blaine, both because she is a latecomer and also a rather eccentric girl. Her wrongdoings against her governesses make it very plausible that Joyce Emily should have strange and violent desires, as indeed she does: it is later revealed that she wants to fight alongside Franco’s fascist Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. She also seems emotionally unstable, which makes Miss Brodie’s later encouragement that she run away to fight all the more destructive and exploitative (a vicarious playing out perhaps of Miss Brodie’s own fantasy to play an artistically exalted role in the war).
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Joyce Emily very much wants to attach herself to the Brodie set, but those girls disapprove of her because of her green clothes and her shiny car and chauffeur; besides, they are busy studying for examinations and doing other school activities. In fact, nobody wants Joyce Emily less than the Brodie girls, who are among the brightest in the school. The fact of the Brodie set’s intelligence, of course, makes it all the more difficult for Miss Mackay to discredit Miss Brodie.
It is ironic that the Brodie set shuns Joyce Emily not because of her past acts of violence, but for superficial things, her clothes and wealth. We learn for the first time that the Brodie girls are exceptionally intelligent. Either Miss Brodie has good insight into a girl’s potential, or else her methods aren’t as unserviceable as they seem at first glance.
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Moreover, the Brodie girls have outside interests, too, at this point in their lives in 1937. Eunice has a boyfriend; Monica and Mary take groceries to people living in slums; Jenny is acting; Rose models for Teddy Lloyd, sometimes accompanied by Sandy who toys with the idea of inducing Mr. Lloyd to kiss her again. The girls also visit Miss Brodie in small groups and all together. So they have little time for Joyce Emily.
When we read about the girls’ outside interests, we realize just how little we really know about them. In fact, we know about them almost exclusively in their relations to Miss Brodie, which also suggests just how little Miss Brodie herself must know about them, how limited her influence ultimately is.
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Miss Brodie, however, does make time for Joyce Emily. The Brodie girls resent this, but are also relieved that Miss Brodie takes Joyce Emily to tea and the theater alone, without obliging them to share Joyce Emily’s company.
Why does Miss Brodie spend time with Joyce Emily? Perhaps because she senses a kindred spirit in her, wild and hungry to transfigure her world into one of excitement.
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Joyce Emily brags that her brother, a student at Oxford, has gone off to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and that she, dark and “rather mad,” wants to go too and march with a gun. Nobody takes this seriously, however, for everybody at the school is “anti-Franco” if they are anything at all (Francisco Franco was a nationalist general who with others initiated a civil war in Spain, successfully overthrowing the democratic Spanish Republic; after the war, he became the leader of the new fascist Spanish regime). However, Joyce Emily does end up running away to Spain that year; she is swiftly, shockingly killed in an accident when the train she is travelling in is attacked. The school holds a remembrance service for her.
Another reason Miss Brodie may enjoy Joyce Emily’s company is because the two uniquely share a passion for fascism. Also, Miss Brodie does indeed take pleasure in plotting the lives of her girls, and Joyce Emily is especially vulnerable to this kind of influence, “rather mad” as she is. It is implied in the novel, but never made explicit, that it is Miss Brodie’s encouragement of Joyce Emily’s desire to fight which ultimately leads to her dismissal from Blaine.
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By their last year at Blaine, only four of the Brodie girls remain: Mary has gone off to be a typist, and Jenny has enrolled at a school of dramatic art. While completing studies at Blaine, Eunice thinks she will go on to study modern languages, but becomes a nurse instead; Monica goes into science, Sandy into psychology. Rose, inheriting her father’s instinctive and “merry carnality,” makes a good marriage soon after she leaves school and “shook off Miss Brodie’s influence as a dog shakes pond-water from its coat.”
As the girls reach maturity and leave Blaine, so too does Miss Brodie’s influence seem to largely dissipate. The girls follow their own interests, largely independent of Miss Brodie’s. Rose, in whom Miss Brodie invests so much hope, ironically shakes off Miss Brodie’s influence with ease, as though it were nothing more than childhood silliness.
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Miss Brodie will never know how easily Rose shook off her influence. She still confides in Sandy that she thinks Rose and Mr. Lloyd will become lovers, which is not so much a theory as part of Miss Brodie’s game in bringing the two together. Sandy perceives that Miss Brodie “was obsessed by the need for Rose to sleep with the man she herself was in love with.”
Now that Rose has shaken off her influence, Miss Brodie’s highest plan for her “prime” seems doomed to come to nothing. She will not, even symbolically, consummate her love for Mr. Lloyd. And all that will remain of her prime, ultimately, are obsessions and the aftertaste of being betrayed by one of her girls.
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Sandy still visits the Lloyds during this period, and indeed has gotten herself “a folkweave shirt” like those that Mrs. Deirdre Lloyd wears. She psychologizes the Lloyds while with them; and when she looks on as Mr. Lloyd paints a portrait of Rose nude, Sandy notices that the image emerging resembles Rose but even more than that it resembles Miss Brodie. Sandy has become very interested in Mr. Lloyd’s mind, “so involved with Miss Brodie as it was, and not accounting her ridiculous.”
In wearing the folkweave shirt, Sandy seems to be preparing herself to take Rose’s place as Mr. Lloyd’s lover in Miss Brodie’s plan. Mr. Lloyd is the only character in the novel as obsessed with Miss Brodie as Sandy is, as his paintings demonstrate. In psychologizing Mr. Lloyd, then, Sandy is also attempting to understand and come to terms with her own obsession.
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Sandy has told Miss Brodie—and Miss Brodie loves to hear it—that all of Mr. Lloyd’s portraits reflect her. Miss Brodie calls herself Mr. Lloyd’s Muse and predicts that Rose will take her place. Sandy, on the other hand, thinks, “She thinks she is Providence… she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end.” Sandy also thinks, perhaps based on her readings in psychology, Miss Brodie is “an unconscious lesbian.”
It seems that even more than sexual fulfillment, Miss Brodie desires the power to dictate her fate and influence the fates of those around her, to make life into an “artistic” story with beginning, middle, and predestined end. Sandy’s hypothesis that Miss Brodie is a lesbian may well be a psychological projection: Sandy does, after all, seem to have homoerotic feelings for Miss Brodie herself.
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Much later, after Sandy has become a nun, Rose comes to visit her; Rose has been married for a long time at that point to a successful businessman. The two women agree that Miss Brodie was dedicated to her girls, and Sandy explains that Miss Brodie was forced to retire because of her politics.
It is ironic but touching that Sandy and Rose remember Miss Brodie first and foremost as someone dedicated to her girls. Miss Brodie would perhaps have preferred to be remembered as a great spirit, a formative influence.
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Monica also comes to visit Sandy when both are adult women, ostensibly seeking marital advice, for she had thrown a piece of burning coal at her sister-in-law, which caused her husband to demand a separation. The two instead talk of Miss Brodie: Sandy explains that Rose never did sleep with Teddy Lloyd, that Miss Brodie did indeed love the artist, and so her renunciation of him was in fact real, not a mere joke as both Sandy and Monica had thought at the time.
Because Miss Brodie is all the Brodie girls really have in common, their conversation as adults rather naturally falls to her. Although some of the girls’ reputations in the novels are undeserved, like Rose’s, Monica does indeed live up to hers, as being mathematically talented and angry, suggesting that typecasting isn’t necessarily futile.
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The narrative shifts back to the summer of 1938, after the last of the Brodie girls have left Blaine. Miss Brodie has gone to Germany and Austria for the summer, while Sandy reads psychology and goes often to the Lloyds’ to sit for her own portrait, sometimes accompanied by Rose. Once, when Sandy and Mr. Lloyd are all alone because his wife and family are away, Sandy tells him that all his portraits, “even that of the littlest Lloyd baby,” are turning out to resemble Miss Brodie, and she gives him an insolent stare. As he had three years before, Mr. Lloyd kisses Sandy, and the two begin a love affair that lasts for five weeks.
It is not Rose but Sandy who serves as Miss Brodie’s proxy in becoming Mr. Lloyd’s lover. Sandy desires this both to symbolically be Miss Brodie, something she has fantasized about since early childhood in her stories and fictions, and also, perhaps, because she deeply loves and pities Miss Brodie, whose plans for her prime seem to have come to nothing until Sandy intervenes here by having an affair with Mr. Lloyd.
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During the time of their affair, Mr. Lloyd paints Sandy a little. She tells him that he is making her look like Miss Jean Brodie in the portrait and he begins a new canvas, “but it was the same again.” Sandy asks Mr. Lloyd why he is obsessed with Miss Brodie, pointing out her ridiculousness. Mr. Lloyd concedes that she is ridiculous, but tells Sandy to stoop analyzing his mind, an unnatural habit in a girl of eighteen.
Sandy craves insight into her own obsession with Miss Brodie, hence this interview with Mr. Lloyd. Both agree that Miss Brodie is somewhat ridiculous, perhaps because she is overcompensating for her littleness in life—but both are also deeply marked by her, suggesting that influence is deeper than mere authority, that a person’s dreams, even if delusional, can have a real grandeur and power to them.
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In September, Miss Brodie and Sandy meet at the Braid Hills Hotel, where Miss Brodie discusses Hitler, quite sure that fascism (either Hitlerian or general) will save the world. Sandy is bored. At last Miss Brodie comes to the point: “‘Rose tells me you have become his [Mr. Lloyd’s] lover,’” she says. Sandy says she has, because Mr. Lloyd interests her. Miss Brodie responds that, as a Roman Catholic, Mr. Lloyd can’t think for himself, is all instinct, and therefore not suitable for an insightful person like Sandy.
Sandy’s boredom reminds us that, despite her attempts at personal growth, Miss Brodie remains decidedly limited as a person: she repeats her catchphrases often, is prejudiced in her opinions and politics, and has obsessed over Mr. Lloyd for some seven or eight years now. She is nonetheless somewhat insightful: Sandy does indeed grow bored with Mr. Lloyd.
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Mr. Lloyd continues painting accidental portraits of Jean Brodie, even though he recognizes as Sandy does that she is not to be taken seriously. Their affair continues even once Mrs. Lloyd returns with the family, all the more dangerously and excitingly. By the end of the year, however, Sandy has lost interest in Mr. Lloyd the man, but is nonetheless deeply absorbed in his mind. She is especially interested in his Roman Catholic religion, an interest she takes with her even after leaving Mr. Lloyd. Eventually, of course, 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.
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The following autumn, Sandy meets Miss Brodie several times, discussing Mr. Lloyd as usual, how his portraits all reflect the lover who renounced him. Miss Brodie tells Sandy that, however strange, it is she, Sandy herself, and not Rose who was destined to be the great lover. Miss Brodie also confides in Sandy that she regrets urging the young Joyce Emily to go to Spain to fight for Franco; Sandy had not been aware of Miss Brodie’s influence to this effect till that moment.
So strong is Miss Brodie’s desire to influence the course of fate that she retrospectively recasts Sandy as Mr. Lloyd’s destined lover, as though this were her plan all along. The revelation that Miss Brodie encouraged Joyce Emily to go to Spain is just the incriminating evidence that Sandy needs—or perhaps the evidence that pushes her—to betray Miss Brodie.
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That autumn, Sandy returns to Blaine to see Miss Mackay, and tells her that Miss Brodie is still cultivating sets of girls at once precocious and out of key with their classmates. Sandy advises Miss Mackay to attempt to unseat Miss Brodie on the grounds of her fascist political interests. Sandy then explains that she is telling all this to Miss Mackay because she wants to put “‘a stop to Miss Brodie.’” When the time comes to force Miss Brodie to retire because of her politics, Miss Mackay does not fail to say to her that it had been a Brodie girl who had betrayed her.
One of the great open questions of the novel is why Sandy does in fact betray Miss Brodie. Does she think it at last morally unacceptable that Miss Brodie encouraged Joyce Emily to fight in Spain? Does she have homoerotic feelings for Miss Brodie with which she herself is deeply uncomfortable? Does she resent Miss Brodie’s influence over her? The answer is never definitively given, and it may be all or none of these things. Regardless, in the end, Miss Brodie’s own designs and efforts to control events undo her.
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Sandy is to leave Edinburgh at the end of the year. When she goes to the Lloyds’ to say goodbye, she looks around Mr. Lloyd’s studio and sees the portraits “on which she had failed to put a stop to Miss Brodie.” Sandy is “fuming…with Christian morals” at this point.
This scene suggests that Sandy resents the fact that her affair with Mr. Lloyd was not enough to push Miss Brodie from his mind. Her stern judgment of Miss Brodie is also a judgment against herself, perhaps, for having an affair with a married man.
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It is in the end of the summer term of 1939 that Miss Brodie is forced to retire, “on the grounds that she had been teaching Fascism.” Sandy has entered the Catholic Church by then, where she meets a number of fascists “much less agreeable than Miss Brodie.”
The novel reminds us that Miss Brodie’s fascist sympathies are not an eccentricity, but were in fact shared even by nuns at the time. Though that does not make those sympathies acceptable, either.
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Miss Brodie writes to Sandy to tell her of her retirement, theorizing that the political question was only an excuse, and that what Miss Mackay really disapproved of was her educational policy. Miss Brodie is most hurt and amazed to believe that one of her own special girls has betrayed her. She tells Sandy that she could suspect any of her girls of the betrayal save Sandy herself. Sandy replies: “‘If you did not betray us it is impossible that you could have been betrayed by us.”
Miss Brodie is probably correct in thinking that Miss Mackay dismissed her for educational and not political reasons, suspicious as Mackay was of Miss Brodie’s influence. Sandy’s logic on betrayal seems to be this: people are loyal unless they are themselves betrayed. She is implying that Miss Brodie somehow betrayed her special girls.
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Over the years, many Brodie girls contact Sandy after she has become Sister Helena of the Transfiguration and published “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace.” Jenny writes that Miss Brodie is past her prime and obsessed with the question of who betrayed her. Jenny also visits Sandy, and Sandy tells her, clutching the grille which separates the two women, that Miss Brodie “‘was quite an innocent in her way.’” Monica visits Sandy as well, and reports to her that Miss Brodie at last suspects her, Sandy, of the betrayal. “‘It’s only possible to betray where loyalty is due,’” Sandy says.
For all her pretenses to greatness of spirit, Miss Brodie dies lonely and embittered by her betrayal, at last obsessing (in an ironic reversal of influence) over her unknown betrayer just as Sandy had obsessed for so long over her, Miss Brodie’s, love life. Sandy in her maturity also recognizes that Miss Brodie was innocent, perhaps in the sense that she was a victim of social convention and her own limitations.
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And then there is the day that the inquiring young man visits Sandy (an incident first described in Chapter 2), speaking with her through the grille which Sandy “clutched more desperately than ever.” He asks her about her formative influences from her schooldays—literary? political? personal? Calvinism? Sister Helena responds, “‘There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime.’”
Sandy clutches her grille because, like Miss Brodie, she yearns to experience the largeness of life. This cloister is something of a self-imposed punishment and exile for her. More than any other Brodie girl, Sandy acted as she did because of Miss Brodie’s influence, even though doing so cut against Miss Brodie’s own plans for Sandy. That Sandy so completely rejected Miss Brodie’s influence is a sign of that influence’s continuing effect.
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