September 1, 2010
I have to admit, when I picked up The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at a book sale, I was so excited. The character was a single woman teaching at an all-girls' school. "Alright," I thought, "let's see if it comes close to my real life."
Well, upon completion, I sure hope it doesn't!
It only takes a few pages to realize Jean is love with socialism, is self-absorbed, and in my opinion, is completely manipulative. If any of these are ever spoken of me, I'd be ready to throw in the towel! Apart from having young pupils obsessed with my romantic life, I can find little comparison.
What I do wonder though, is if Miss Brodie is right that a woman has a "prime" of her life. As she describes it, "One's prime is the moment one was born for." Now, according to Brodie, this prime may last several years (or for her, however long her particular time at Marcia Blaine were to last). I find myself wanting to redeem her, and so I want to say that she is right in some respect. Perhaps there is a certain period in our lives that stands out from all of the rest. But is it when we have the most vitality? The most beauty? Truth? Goodness? Wisdom? Sexual attractiveness? (The latter I would say is argued by Brodie in her retelling of her romantic escapades as well as something embraced by our culture). What do you think?
On the other side, I'm not sure this idea of a prime totally jives with a Catholic anthropology. Even if we were to think of a prime as a vocation, we can be called to do many things during our lives. And let's say we're only called to one: I would say you'd be hard-pressed to find a priest who didn't say his understanding and experience of his own vocation didn't change or deepen, just like that of a wife, mother, husband, father, teacher, or anyone else's would. Can one whose whole life is laid out before God at the Final Judgment remind her Maker of her "prime"? Would it stand out to God? Would not the entirety of our lives, even the ordinariness, have meaning?
I have to say, too, that if a prime exists, I don't want mine to be right now. And maybe Brodie would say it couldn't be, since I don't experience it as the time in my life that I was born for.
My last suspicion is that Brodie was just trying to convince herself after her failures in relationships, dissatisfaction with the government, and overall inability to break out of a melancholic and pensive state that her life was okay, and that everything was working out as it should. Was she just trying to convince herself that all was well (or even exceedingly well)? And if so, how many times do we also fall prey to this? Maybe Miss Jean Brodie does have a lesson to teach us after all.