Book reviews

Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Harper Perennial, 1989; originally published 1961)

A novel of a typical eugenicist: be arrogant, push birth control on people, and support fascists.

Most people think of the loud-mouthed and sex-starved spinster of the film version of Spark’s novel.  What intrigued me were the eugenic beliefs of that spinster, which account for her obnoxious life.

Several lines manifest Jean Brodie’s fascination with the eugenicist foundation of the artificial birth control movement, and it’s surprising that more critics have not commented on it.  One characteristic of the thirty-year-old and older women who constituted the “war-bereaved spinsterhood” of the novel’s setting to which Brodie belonged was that “they preached the inventions of Maria Stopes” (43-4), Stopes being the infamous British contraception activist.  Immediately after this general discussion, Brodie herself proclaims that “birth control is the only answer to the problem of the working class.  A free issue to every household…” (44; ellipsis in original).

As any high school student could point out, Brodie is immediately guilty of the either/or and hasty generalization logical fallacies.  Artificial birth control is not the only solution to economic poverty.

Logic aside, her support for artificial birth control speaks volumes about her eugenic ideas.  Brodie must follow what Margaret Sanger, founder of the abortion business Planned Parenthood, once decreed: that artificial birth control would stop those “unfit” to have children from reproducing.  Eugenicists like Brodie would agree with Sanger’s goal to have “More children from the fit, less from the unfit.”

Brodie’s eugenic belief, manifested in her promotion of artificial birth control, accounts for her arrogance, evident throughout the novel.  She believes that her educational methods are exemplary, that her fornication with a fellow teacher is acceptable, and that she can form “her girls” into her own image (a God-like quality).

Of course, Brodie is anti-Catholic; someone like her would not tolerate the authority of a religion representing God on earth.

Critics have commented on Brodie’s support for dictators like Mussolini and Hitler, but they have failed to see that political support for such people follows naturally from the eugenic and artificial birth control philosophy.  After all, if one does not believe in democracy (the will of the people expressed in ordinary elections, like the corrupt Democratic Party of today), then one will support a dictator.  Even after the war, Brodie diminishes Hitler’s eugenic crimes with an extreme litotes: “Hitler was rather naughty” (131; italics in original).  Singing the lyrics to Eminem’s “Criminal” as the theme song of the Democratic Party may be naughty; murdering millions of human beings is criminal.

Spark’s epitaph for Brodie is trenchant: “Her name and memory, after her death, flitted from mouth to mouth like swallows in summer, and in winter they were gone” (136).

How sad!  Why would anybody want to be a eugenicist like Jean Brodie?  That’s like being an advocate of artificial birth control (what the abortion business Planned Parenthood promotes) or a politician in the corrupt Democratic Party.

In the effort to reverse cancel culture by reading hosts of dead white female authors, on to the next British classic.

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