Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

First published:- 1961

Read in:- January, 2014

 Star rating:-

Henry Louis Vivian Derozio is a name possibly not known or cared for beyond the frontiers of India. 
At the tender age of 17 this man of Anglo-Indian descent, possessing a sharp intellect and an even sharper tongue, was already a Professor of English Literature and History, busy influencing a group of eager, well-bred young men hailing from affluent Bengali families in Calcutta. He became a leading figure in the age of socio-cultural reform movements in Bengal in the dawn of the 19th century through his dissemination of Western philosophical and scientific ideas at a time when our society was stagnating in a cesspool of ignorance and blind prejudices. And his close-knit group of brilliant young students of the Hindu College who were referred to by the smart moniker of'Derozians', much in the same manner of the ill-famed 'Brodie set' of TPOMJB, were viewed with as much suspicion as unacknowledged respect. But following the pattern of reception of new ideas which are regarded 'radical' and therefore dangerously subversive in their times, Derozio was expelled from the Hindu College and this in turn applied an abrupt brake on the Young Bengal movement. 

As much as my teenage self had looked upon the Derozio name and his legacy with a kind of starry-eyed deference, post-acquaintance with a fictional educator as sociopathic and ambiguous as Miss Jean Brodie, I am forced to view this whole idea of an inspirational teacher weaning a student away from conventional methods of learning with utmost skepticism. No I do not intend to overlook Derozio's small but significant contribution to the collective betterment of our society of the times which in turn greatly aided the nationalist movement later on. But maybe, it will be wise to probe deeper for the unadulterated truth rather than be so guilelessly accepting. I am sure both Muriel Spark and Derozio himself would have approved.

Young, impressionable minds being shaped according to someone else's personal standards of nauseating elitism and if one is unlucky enough to fall under the spell of some conniving Miss Jean Brodie in her prime, being sucked right into a sinister trap. 
What a slippery slope this is! This setting about to correct the course undertaken by a young learner under the facade of challenging conformity, with a perverse sense of authoritarian entitlement. 

'I know better than you, therefore you must follow my instructions.' 

In the way of Miss Jean Brodie's attempts at manipulating adolescent girls into competing with each other to be made a part of her venerated 'crème de la crème', people of insidious intent devise ways of propagating some attractive piece of ideology with confident pronouncements of it being the 'path of righteousness' and all that familiar drivel. 

Which is why I now realize how treacherous traversing this distance between not knowing and knowing a little better is - there's no way to fill up the vacuum of ignorance other than with information in any form that is available nearby and you better hope that pedagogical influence of the likes of the magnetic Miss Jean Brodies of the world does not hold free reign in the vicinity at the time.

"Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life."

It's been a while since something quite as innocuous sounding as the above claim has left me feeling so deeply unsettled.

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