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.
Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood ThemeTracker
Sexuality, One’s Prime, and Spinsterhood Quotes in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
‘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.
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…
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.
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.
‘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.