The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie: A Novel
London: Penguin Books, 1965 (1st ed. 1961)
“Brodie, of course, is a follower of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini […] In that context it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to see the elite ‘crème de la crème‘ as an SS in miniature with Miss Brodie as its Duce or Führer.” — Alan Taylor, “Little Miss Imperfect, Sunday Herald, January 12, 2003.
This is a book whose title has been rattling around in my head for decades, mainly due to the popular movie, for which Maggie Smith won the Oscar for 1969 (and which I haven’t seen). So I was happy to find an old but solid Delta paperback (the old upscale line from Dell) from 1962 for a buck, and read it over two afternoons (it’s a short novel, really one of James’ dear nouvelles).
For those of you not up on the book, here’s a recap of the film (whose ending is slightly different, though not in any way relevant to us here):
One thing I recalled from references to the movie over the years is that Miss Brodie is supposed to be an Evil Person, as shown by her so inspiring a student to live dangerously that she gets killed in the Spanish Civil War. Since “fighting the fascists” is supposed to be a Good Thing by our Elite, I had always supposed it was the girl’s youth that was the problem. On reading the book, however, it is revealed that Miss Brodie is a Bad because she is herself a Fascist (that is, her ‘elitism’ leads her to approve of Fascism) and persuaded the girl to switch sides to the Bad Guys; the girl’s death (not even in combat) is only the last straw, leading another of Her Girls to “betray” her to the administration.
Constant Readers of this blog will know that I continue to be amazed at how not only are mass murderers of the Left still presented as heroes (Mao) or sexy icons (Che) or at least sadly mistaken (Stalin), but even such a minor figure of the Right as Franco is still regarded with the same dread and loathing one might be expected to feel for Cthulhu. As I said here:
You would think that on points, Franco would come out pretty good; Spain liberated from a murderous terrorist government, Europe avoids eventual encirclement by Stalinist puppets, thousand of Jews not rounded up and sent East, Spain kept out of the war and avoids the fate of Eastern Europe; eventually, prosperous and free, joins the EU. Of course, as soon as the “social democrats” got their hands on it, the country was run straight into the gutter, as we can see today.
But as we know, the Left will tolerate not one minute deviation from its doctrines or its whims, and so Franco must be a monster of horror.
So I expected to have my usual counter-culture experience of reading about some “horrible” person and actually admiring them. And indeed, I found it hard to not admire Miss Brodie, an experience apparently quite common among readers, as well as film goers, who not only adored Maggie Smith’s character but even have the double-exposure effect of her role in the Harry Potter films, which she has described as “Miss Jean Brodie in a wizard’s hat.”
There is indeed something odd and contradictory about Miss Brodie, and it’s not the “fascist” sympathies or her being, as one of the girls realizes, “an unconscious Lesbian” (p. 120). She doesn’t resemble any “fascist” character I’ve run into, or even much of a stereotype of one.
1. Miss Brodie preaches free thought and individualism, and scorns “team spirit.”
“Phrases like ‘the team spirit’ are always employed to cut across individualism, love and personal loyalties.” (p. 79)
Yet is not “fascism” supposed to privilege the mass over the individual? Of course, while praising ‘free thought,’ Miss Brodie is quite prepared to ram her own ideas down their willing throats:
“Who is the greatest Italian painter?”
“Leonardo da Vinci, Miss Brodie.”
“That is incorrect. The answer is Giotto, he is my favourite.” (p. 11)
2. In line with this ‘free thought’ and ‘individualism,’ and her Calvinist upbringing, she is a fervent anti-Catholic:
Her [Brodie’s] disapproval of the Church of Rome was based on her assertions that it was a church of superstition, and that only people who did not want to think for themselves were Roman Catholic. (p. 85)
And yet, were not the classic 30s Fascists, Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, all Catholics of one kind or another?
3. Far from being easily imagined as a miniature SS elite, the “Brodie Girls” are a rag-tag assortment of misfits and fuck ups. One will later die while panicking in a hotel fire, another will be blown up on a train before reaching the battlefield in Spain.
Rather than merit, or blood, her selection process emphasized different qualities:
Miss Brodie had already selected her favourites, or rather those whom she could trust; or rather those whose parents she could trust not to lodge complaints about the more advanced and seditious aspects of her educational policy, these parents being either too enlightened to complain or too unenlightened, […] or too trusting to question the value of what their daughters were learning at this school of sound reputation. (p. 26)
We’re getting warmer. We’ll have reason to come back to those parents, drawn from either the Lumpenproletariat or the “enlightened” elite.
4. As for her ‘educational policy’ which might be ‘questioned,’ Miss Brodie refuses to move to a more progressive school, preferring a ‘school of sound reputation’ to a ‘crank school.’ Her questionable methods and results include these:
At that time they [the girls] had been immediately recognizable as Miss Brodie’s pupils, being vastly informed on a lot of subjects irrelevant to the authorized curriculum, as the headmistress said, and useless to the school as a school. … These girls were discovered to have heard of […] the love lives of Charlotte Brontë and of Miss Brodie herself. […] They knew the rudiments of astrology but not the date of the Battle of Flodden or the capital of Finland. All of the Brodie set, save one, counted on its fingers, as had Miss Brodie, with accurate results more or less. [pp. 5-6]
She turned to the blackboard and rubbed out with her duster the long division sum she always kept on the blackboard in case of intrusions from the outside during any arithmetic periods when Miss Brodie should happen not to be teaching arithmetic. 
Are not “fascists,” or at least their near-cousins, “conservatives,” constantly denouncing “progressive” education and demanding that students learn “the 3 R’s”?
5. Most bizarrely of all, Miss Brodie, a spinster and anti-Catholic, falls in love with the married Catholic art teacher (male), and then schemes to have one of her ‘suitable’ girls have the affair for her, while she arranges equally secret ‘booty calls’ with another unmarried, non-Catholic male instructor.
I’m not sure what disorder this falls under, but again, isn’t the classic “fascist” either sexually rigid or else sadistically debauched (the W. Reich-Visconti pendulum)?
After a little meditation, I think I’ve figured it out, and I submit my hypothesis for general discussion:
Spark, like most Good Thinkers, doesn’t know anything about any real “fascism” or know any of those dirty fascists herself (so infra-dig, after all; when Sandy, she of the ‘unconscious Lesbian” insight, becomes a Catholic “she found quite a number of fascists less agreeable than Miss Brodie”). How then, to construct her “fascist” character?
Obviously, Miss Brodie must be based on herself, or some other Good Thinkers, and her doctrines and methods accordingly are merely some kind of extreme Good Thinking; hence the notion of “that’s why they’re so damned attractive at first” central to the paranoid “anti-fascist” genre.
The double exposure arises from the fact that Miss Brodie’s “fascism” is actually an extreme form of Liberalism, which today we now know as PC or, as Keith Preston has analyzed it, Totalitarian Humanitarianism.
For Spark and her kind, “fascism” is a strawman of ignorance, a mere “boo-word” for anything they dislike. In this case, it’s been applied to what we now can see is the most recent and logical development of Liberalism itself.
Perhaps, to inject some element of rigor, we might line up Miss Brodie to the schema of ‘Modernity,’ the enemy of the Right, provided at the outset of “The French New Right in The Year 2000” by Alain de Benoist and Charles Champetier (reprinted as ‘Manifesto for a European Renaissance’ in Appendix III of new edition of Tomislav Sunic’s Against Democracy and Equality [Arktos, 2011]):
Modernity … is characterized primarily by five converging processes:
individualization, through the destruction of old forms of communal life;
Miss Brodie scorns ‘team spirit’ and preaches her own form of individualism: agreeing with her.
massification, through the adoption of standardized behavior and lifestyles;
“You are all Brodie girls!” “Miss Brodie would prefer it.”
desacralization, through the displacement of the great religious narratives by a scientific interpretation of the world;
Miss Brodie is fervently anti-Catholic, rejecting the great religious narrative of European Man for a narrow, presumptuous Calvinism that has been secularized to the extent of her assuming the determining role of the Calvinist God herself, as Sandy correctly intuits: “‘She thinks she is Providence’, thought Sandy, ‘she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end’” (p. 120) just as secularism has replaced God with Man himself.
rationalization, through the domination of instrumental reason, the free market, and technical efficiency;
Not so much; Miss Brodie scorns science, economics and efficiency, and has her girls rely on their fingers to count, as does she; however, this is really in the service of ensuring that science will not intrude on her dogmas, a la PC taboos on racial science or questioning the dogmas of natural selection and global warming.
universalization, through a planetary extension of a model of society postulated implicitly as the only rational possibility and thus as superior.
The implicit assumption of Miss Brodie’s whole program, creating little models of herself and sending them forth; she may say she ‘educates’ in accordance with the etymology of ‘drawing out what is within’ but actually assumes that ‘inner’ content to be identical with herself, or else to be discarded; “all people are equal, except when they disagree with me, in which case they are merely stupid or sick, and may be taken out of consideration.” Indeed, her very discussion of the issue itself illustrates this: hers is “the only correct understanding of the word.”
In short, Miss Brodie is no Fascist (although technically she may be a quote-fascist-unquote) but rather the adumbration of a then-new type, very familiar to us today: the withered old Methodist-Presbyterian-raised but now secularly righteous Public Scolds.
Or, consider La Passionara de San Francisco, who tells us that:
[I]t doesn’t matter so much who wins the election, because we have shared values about the education of our children, . . . elections shouldn’t matter as much as they do.
These are the women, not the “fascist” skinheads, who are sending our girls and boys to their deaths to “fight injustice” in every shithole on the planet.
It’s pretty counter-stereotypical. Women’s suffrage was originally justified in part on the grounds that women were less likely to vote for war. But Clinton, Power and Rice all come out of the Clinton-era ideological tradition of hawkish humanitarian interventionism.
It’s also interesting to recall that Power had to resign from the Obama campaign after calling Clinton a “monster” in what she thought was an off-the-record interview. Now they’re teaming up.
The “stereotype” is woman = liberal = good, which lies behind the idea that a Miss Brodie must be a nasty “fascist;” and, as a spinster and even an “unconscious Lesbian” she’s not even a real woman, so there! Of course, that part’s a bit behind the times now:
And for “humanitarian interventionism” read: Totalitarian Humanism.
As for a “monster,” is that not exactly how we are supposed to regard Miss Brodie?
Although de Benoist doesn’t mention sexual “liberation,” viewing Brodie as PC avant le lettre even makes sense of her batty molestation/adultery/voyeurism scheme; isn’t that just exactly the sort of “enlightened” brainstorm some Bloomsbury type would dream up, to the cynical guffaws of a Lytton Strachey? Keynes’ (another Bloomsberry, let us not forget) infamous “In the long run we are all dead” might be taken as the male version of Miss Brodie’s dictum “I am in my prime!”
One is also reminded of a similar triple play idea dreamed up by the supposedly “sensible wife” in The Big Chill; another group of mis-educated PC losers, one dead, all bemoaning their bad but sophisticated life choices and pontificating wildly. Here’s a very Brodie exchange:
Don’t you have any music from this century?
There’s no other music here.
Now we see exactly why Miss Brodie insinuates herself into an established school, not a ‘crank school.’ And why she selects only pupils whose parents are either too disinterested to care about what she teaches their girls, or enlightened enough to agree with her. Either way, the perfect subjects of PC indoctrination, with none of those pesky “right-wing” butinskis to get in the way.
It’s interesting, is it not, that our own “highly educated elites” are constantly bemoaning the paltry results of our educational institutions, and rightly so; yet it is also clear that they link, more or less explicitly, “education” with adherence to their ideology, and “lack of education” with any residual traces of “bad old” ideas. This despite the easily attested fact that the “well educated man” (in Evola’s phrase) of the bad old days held precisely these opinions.
Evola, I suppose, is a lost cause, but read some “patron saint of free speech” like Mencken or even as far back as Voltaire, and see how they freely spoke about “noble savages” or Jews or “the feminine” or any other hobbyhorse of the PC Left.
The standard reply of the half-mis-educated (Shaw) negro on the Internet, “You ray-cists beez ig-nor-ant” not only serves as a summation of this “education = liberal cant” meme, but we could also imagine it to have been spoken, in both content and grammar, by one of Miss Brodie’s Girls.
And yes, despite their “we’re so smart” blather, even turning out students who count on their fingers is quite compatible with the Liberal Project. Is not Liberalism the doctrine of the Public Sector? And is not the Public Sector, as James Jackson reminds us,
[T]the chief vehicle by which the witless, the retarded, and the pathologically lazy can find employment. They produce nothing, they do nothing, they mean nothing. It is why the political left embraces them and why they in turn cling to the political left—all at the poor bloody taxpayer’s expense.
Yes, girls, enter the warm embrace of Miss Brodie! She has selected you, so you must be Special! And your parents will silently foot the bill!
And now, please enjoy the pleasantly White song “Jean” written and performed by Rod McKuen:
En défense du populisme
Jesus, We Hardly Know Ye
Superstitious Minds: The Importance of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter
Scott Howard’s The Open Society Playbook
Higher Education: Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game
Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill
Lothrop Stoddard’s Into the Darkness, Part 2