Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Icky, Icky

So, recently I've happened upon novels that play with time. For example, Muriel Spark's The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is told from the present and the future simultaneously--that is, school girls reminisce and contemplate their lives and connections with a charismatic, if often misleading, teacher.

Spark's memorable characters are engaging, but I'm not sure we're on the same page with respect to what she says about those characters. Her style is perceptive, but cold. She doesn't shirk from depicting evil and failure, silliness, and human folly, but I wasn't sure that she did anything more. Then, I stopped being mentally lazy, and I got it.

The title character, Miss Jean Brodie, a silly romanantic, elevates the personal above the universal. That's why she's a good facist. She's pitiable, and yet ugly. She reminds me of Peter Keating in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. She lives vicariously through her students, convinced that she's controlling them, and is omnipotent about their futures. Student A is destined to be a great lover, and student B is destined to be X, Y, or Z. Sandy (the other primary character) observes, "She thinks she is Providence . . . she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end." She confuses the Italian Renaisance with Italian facism. In the end, she isn't nearly as perceptive about the world or her students as she thinks she is.

She loves facism. Through her dynamic personality she controls her students, infusing their minds with her facist ideology, personifing facist authority. She convinces them that Catholism is passe, that morality is whatever the elite make it, that religion is populism, that we are all predestined to be whatever we become. In the end, though, one of her own students betrays her, exposing her shallowness and nonconformity/conformity to the school's headmistress.

Sandy, one of the Brodie-set, the "creme de la creme," rejects her teacher, and finally ends up becoming a nun. Sandy revolts against the idea that she is above all things and all others, including morality. She becomes keenly aware that her conformity to Miss Jean Brodie's "group judgment" which is at odds with her individual judgment is a source of human cruelty. Furthermore, Sandy thuroughly revolts against Miss Brodie's Calvinist ideology of predestination. Sandy, though, is not without fault. She engages in an affair with a married man, while on the road to rejecting Miss Brodie's ideology.

Miss Jean Brodie tells one of her students that she should have an affair with the art teacher (Miss Brodie's ex). She never sees Sandy as a candidate for the endeavor, so, as Sandy begins to revolt against Miss Brodie and her misleading romanticism and rejection of religion, Sandy starts the affair. The affair is just the first step. It isn't until Sandy realizes that Miss Brodie didn't think she was good enough to have the affair (Miss Brodie thinks highly of herself and must live out her fantasies through those she finds acceptable substitutes for the real thing), and that she takes NO responsibility for having contributed to the death of one of the other school girls, that Sandy truly rebels, exposing Ms. Brodie. Miss Brodie never knows who betrayed her deepest secrets and sentiments to the school, or why.

I'm writing this during a quick break. Now back to court!

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