Home alone, between sweeping and moping and imagining up a new cookie recipe, I started thinking about The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. I originally crossed it as a movie on TCM when I was twelve or thirteen and finally read the book a few years ago during a gloomy season in San Francisco.
At the first viewing I’m sure I liked the bright colors (it was made in 1969), and the over all “look.” I also recognized Maggie Smith as Granny Wendy and Mrs. Medlock from The Secret Garden. Presently a gray-headed lady, it was a start to see her with red curls and thick eyeliner. The notion that, in a mere thirty years, she had gone from pretty, slightly middled-aged beauty to prim grandmother. It was perhaps one of the first times I ever thought about thirty years in both respects—as an eternity (longer than I’ve been alive even now), or as no time at all (it isn’t really).
However, what hooked me and locked this film and story as one of my favorites of all time is the heated confrontation at the very end. Sandy, Miss Brodie’s prized pupil, but never the “sexy” one, admits she’s long since turned on her mentor. Amazingly, Miss Brodie’s heated and dramatic response seems to come more from having pegged Sandy wrong, personality-classification-wise, rather than simply being wrong to have trusted her.
Even today, one of my very favorite things to say in the mirror with steely eyes and clenched teeth are “Jenny will NOT be Teddy’s lover and I will not BE YOUR SPY.” Brush hair from eyes: “Do you think your PROVIDENCE?” (I looked it up with I was thirteen) “That you can ORDAIN LOVE?”
When Miss Brodie asks questions, Sandy has all the perfectly sharp, eloquent answers that seem to evade me in real life. ”Why must you always strike aptitudes?” She screams. ”You really are a ridiculous woman.”
And so, looking back, I try to pin point what, exactly, must have spoken to me most, and what continues to. Naturally I fancied myself more a Sandy than a Miss Brodie. I’ll never be most popular or pretty one and ‘ll always do a rather creepy amount of thinking and say the wrong thing. Sandy also sort of “wins,” and I’m sure I wanted to back then, too. I’d like to right now, if possible.
And then there’s the aspect of what else was present during those years. Perhaps it had little to do with me and more with the mother of a friend who, I realize now, is an awful lot like Miss Brodie—ultimately harmless, but certainly powerful in turning the heads and interests of thirteen year-old girls. If Hitler had gathered an army of little girls, he’d have needed to be Jean Brodie. And, my thought is, looking back, even twelve year-old me could see through it, just a bit. Miss Brodie caught my intrigue because there really was someone a little rotten in Denmark, and I was testing the notions of “ridiculous women” and what that entailed.
Now, as a 28 year-old, I find Sandy’s self-knowledge and lack of doubt astounding to the point of making her as make believe as she really is. I’ve certainly come across my share of “ridiculous” women, but none I was so unwavering of their soul assessment that I would feel at liberty to destroy their lives. I doubt myself too much. I would instead assume I was having a bad day or not doing a good enough job of seeing them the way their mother or children might.
But, so we also see with Miss Brodie, left screeching and without dignity in her once-classroom as Sandy politely walks away, shoulders squared, jaw set. A lame animal, her humanity, absent for much of the story, comes back and it’s hard to NOT feel sorry for her. Sandy might be able to walk away, but I never could. So perhaps I should instead say I choose the real moral of it all to be NOT to become the ridiculous woman. Even if a sweet-faced group of 13 year-olds treat you like a god, remember where you came from.