Friday, April 18, 2014

Judas Redux - An Essay on "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie"

By John Calder

A charming tale of 10-year-old schoolgirls and their quirky Teacher, Miss Brodie at first seems like an innocent tale of coming of age. The dynamics of such social circles portrayed at first seem innocent and child like. But a simple, short tale of school life in 1930’s Edinburgh Scotland becomes something else when analyzed through the details. This brilliantly written tale, where every sentence and paragraph is crafted with intent, exposes a deeper meaning than first glance. Indeed the “Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” is about schoolgirls and the Teacher, it is also a tale of deception, betrayal and suspicion. This book is a retelling of the relationship Jesus Christ had with his Apostles and his eventual betrayal by his closest confidante, Judas Iscariot.

Sandy, Mary, Rose and 3 other girls are assigned to Miss Jean Brodie who describes herself as being "in my prime". Miss Brodie, contrary to the instruction of the school Head Mistress, Miss Mackay, is determined that they shall receive an education in the original sense of the Latin verb ‘educere’, "to lead out", gives her students lessons about her personal love life and travels, promoting art history, classical studies, and shares her love of fascism. Under her guidance, these six girls whom Brodie singles out as the elite group among her students—known as the "Brodie set"—begin to stand out from the rest of the school. 

Thus begins the relationship of the Mentor and her ardent supporter. In one scene, this biblical tale is played out were Miss Brodie and the girls “Miss Brodie led her new class into the garden” (Sparks 16). Where Miss Brodie taught her version of Religion, “Goodness, Truth and Beauty” (Sparks 17).

In regards to religion, Miss Brodie "was not in any doubt, she let everyone know she was in no doubt, that God was on her side whatever her course". Feeling herself fated one way or another, Brodie acts as if she transcends morality. In fact, Miss Brodie has taken on the persona of ‘Jesus” and the ‘Brodie Set’, her apostles, and like Jesus, one her hand picked followers would betray her as well.

When we first meet Sandy Stranger, she is described to an angelic figure wearing a halo, in a simple description of how she wore her hat. ”Sandy Stranger wore it turned up all round and as far back on her head as it could possibly go” (Sparks 12). This image beckons that of angels, particularly in the divinity paintings of Miss Brodie’s favorite artist, Giotto.
            Who is the greatest Italian painter?”
“Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie.”
“That’s incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favorite.” (Sparks 18)

It is interesting to note that Giotto only painted scenes of divinity and faith, unlike other great Italian painters like da Vinci, who created timeless works of art in a variety of mediums and range of topics. Giotto most famous painting is “The Kiss of Judas”, a telling sign for Sandy’s later conversion to Catholicism, becoming a Nun and the betrayal of Miss Brodie.

Other members of the “Brodie-set” act as proxies for Miss Brodie herself, and exhibit characteristics of Miss Brodie’s behavior, themselves.

Mary Macgregor, the dim-witted and slow girl, is Brodie's scapegoat. Mary meekly bears the blame for everything that goes wrong. At the age of 23 she dies in a hotel fire, killed running back and forth through the hotel, unable to escape. Yet Miss Brodie in her sexual escapades acts like Mary, running back and forth between two paramours, only in the end, to die alone.

Rose Stanley, an attractive woman who resembles a young Miss Brodie is pressured into an affair with the Art Teacher, Mr. Lloyd, simply because Miss Brody will not sleep with him, and again Miss Brodie seeks the vicarious joy of this coupling. Mr. Lloyd, a one-armed war veteran Mr. Teddy Lloyd, a married Roman Catholic with six children, always paints his models to look like Miss Brodie, which eventually Rose finds no attraction him, she is impervious to it. It is Sandy, who in an act of dissent had the affair with Mr. Lloyd, much to the dislike of Miss Brodie.

It would eventually be Sandy who would betray Miss Brodie. This was her destiny set up for her by Miss Brodie in much the same manner in which Jesus chose his own Apostles, even Judas. Sandy exhibited dissident behavior in almost all her independent decisions. “Miss Brodie’s disapproval of the Girl Guides had jealousy in it” (Sparks 48).
“Sandy thought might see about joining the Brownies. Then the group-fright seized her again, and it was necessary to put the idea aside, because she loved Miss Brodie” (Sparks 48). It’s apparent that Miss Brodie, like Jesus, expects the eventual betrayal. “If the authorities want to get rid of her she would have to be assassinated”.

The betrayal of Miss Brodie was set in action by her selection of her hand picked confidante Sandy. Sandy’s reaction to this betrayal was cold and impersonal. "It’s only possible to betray where loyalty is due". (Sparks 135)
            “Have you thought of politics?”
            Miss Mackay turned her chair so it was nearly square with Sandy’s. This was business.
“My dear”, she said, “What do you mean? I didn’t know she was attracted to politics.”
Neither she is,” said Sandy, “except as a side interest. She’s a born Fascist, have you thought of that?” (Sparks 182)

Sandy’s betrayal was ordained, as much as Miss Brodie’s playing the role of the betrayed. The actors played out their roles in this passion play in a predictable and biblical histrionics. Sandy’s spiritual awakening gained through infidelity, the affair with a married Catholic painter, led to her contempt for Miss Brodie’s beloved Calvinism and fascination with impeccable order, Fascism. History repeats itself and so does the story of the betrayal of Jesus Christ by Judas Iscariot.

Works Cited

Spark, Muriel. “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”, (United Kingdom 1962).

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