Jane Eyre and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie －Jane and Sandy as Romantic Rebels
There are many modern novels inspired by Jane Eyre. Examples include: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The Waterfall by Margaret Drabble, The Game by A.S. Byatt. Authors in these novels do not just enjoy reading Jane Eyre but also read it critically from either historical or feminist point of view. However, there are other novels in which authors are directly influenced by Jane Eyre and encourage the readers to become absorbed in it. In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark there is a tendency towards accepting Jane Eyre as a model and characters fancy themselves as the heroine.
In the Martin McQuillan interview, we recognize how the author Muriel Spark admires Jane Eyre. McQuillan asks about her essays on the Brontës: Why the Brontës? What interested you? Spark answers: Well, I was always very interested in the Brontës. I think they were a remarkable set of people and very non-Victorian. They came straight out of the eighteenth century and into the twentieth century, or almost. They were extremely advanced…Jane Eyre is an absolutely lovely book, full of improbabilities and ‘dragged-in’ coincidences. In this way, Spark highly praises the Brontës.
Spark’s Miss Brodie was based on the teacher she met at the age of eleven: Miss Christina Kay. Under the influence of Miss Kay, Spark first encountered Charlotte Brontë. According to Spark, “It was when I was in Miss Kay’s class that I read Jane Eyre, and Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë.
Here, let me introduce the outline of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It’s set in Edinburgh in the 1930s, where Miss Brodie, the Marcia Blaine School mistress skillfully manipulates her favorite six girls called “the Brodie set” and exerts a dangerous influence upon them. Miss Brodie herself is a feminist as well as a worshipper of fascism. One of her students joins the Spanish Civil War and is killed due to Brodie’s influence. The insightful Sandy secretly informs the headmistress of the fact and Miss Brodie is dismissed.
Next, let us examine the story in more detail. Miss Brodie used the sewing period each week to read Jane Eyre to her class. Girls were so absorbed in Jane Eyre that while they listened, “pricked their thumbs as much as bearable so that interesting little spots of blood might appear on the stuff they were sewing, and it was even possible to make blood-spot designs.” This description conveys how appealing the novel is to such girls in their teens who develop an interest in sexual matters. Jane Eyre is a nice guide to love affairs including physical ones, which is implied in “interesting little spots of blood.”
Let us turn to the imaginary dialogue between Sandy and Rochester, a character in Jane Eyre:
Sandy was thinking of the next instalment of Jane Eyre which Miss Brodie usually enlivened this hour by reading. Sandy had done with Alan Breck [the hero of Kidnapped] and had taken up with Mr Rochester, with whom she now sat in the garden.
‘You are afraid of me, Miss Sandy.’
‘You talk like the Sphinx, sir, but I am not afraid.’
‘You have such a grave, quiet manner, Miss Sandy － you are going?’
‘It has struck nine, sir.’
It is noteworthy that the dialogue above is similar to that between Jane and Rochester from Ch. 14 in Jane Eyre:
‘You are afraid of me, because I talk like a Sphynx.”
‘Your language is enigmatical, sir: but though I am bewildered, I am certainly not afraid.’
‘You are afraid － your self-love dreads a blunder.’
‘In that sense I do feel apprehensive － I have no wish to talk nonsense.’
‘If you did, it would be in such a grave, quiet manner, I should mistake it for sense. ….You are still bent on going?’
‘It has struck nine, sir.’
Thus Spark parodies the dialogue from Jane Eyre and by doing so she shows how captivating Rochester is for girls even after about one century has passed.
However, before Sandy falls in love with Rochester, she was crazy for the hero in Kidnapped by R.L.Stevenson and soon she gets obsessed with the police woman who questions Jenny, one of “the Brodie set.” As police women were new and rare those days Jenny’s talk on the police woman should have captured Sandy’s interest. In this way, girls in their teens fall in love with one character after another in both the fictional and the real world. Jane Eyre is described as one of such transit points.
Here, let us consider Sandy’s relationship with Teddy Lloyd, a married art master. Does this episode have something in common with Jane Eyre? It can be said that there is resistance against dominant authoritarians like Miss Brodie and Rochester. Though Miss Brodie loves Teddy, she never accepts the role as his lover because he is a married man. Then, Miss Brodie conceives a plot; Rose, one of “the Brodie set” is predestined to be the lover of Teddy Lloyd and Sandy carries back the information on them. However, it is Sandy who actually sleeps with Teddy. Thus Sandy betrays Miss Brodie by stealing the place that is not chosen for her.
Then, let us compare this rebellion with the case of Jane Eyre. Jane Eyre also rejects her role as Rochester’s lover and runs away. Sandy refuses to act as Miss Brodie plots and tries to escape from her control and manipulation. Hence, Sandy is similar to Jane from the perspective of a rebellion against authority. It could be ironic if Sandy learns this rebellious attitude from Jane Eyre which Miss Brodie taught.
Thus, there are alluring charms in Jane Eyre which attract young people’s interest from longing for love affairs to rebellion against wrong grown-ups. Spark in Miss Brodie responds to Jane Eyre directly and conveys such attractiveness.
- How Jean Rhys rewrites Jane Eyre: the birth of polyphonic text, Wide Sargasso Sea
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- Bleak House and Villette: The Story of a Trauma narrated by Esther and Lucy
- Naming and Violence in Bleak House
- Misogyny and Patriarchy in Lady Audley’s Secret
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