Sasha Clarke takes a look at a famous location in Edinburgh, and examines its equally renowned literary representation. From its cobbled streets to its eerie graveyards, Edinburgh has long been a muse for some of the most famous works of fiction in the English language. This week she turns her eye to ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’, Muriel Spark’s most famous novella.
When walking through the blustery serenity of the Meadows on a sharp spring morning, one may agree that there are many sights to see. Young people flying kites whilst attempting to keep their feet firmly rooted to the ground; clusters of tie-dyed students dabbling on the bong drums; and silvery old ladies surrounded by a gaggle of pugs, would be to name but a few. Amongst these, and making a keen procession down the sloped path of the Bruntsfield Links, school children clad in tartan and pinafores march to the rhythmic steps of their teacher, a whistle draped around her neck and a flag clutched in her left hand, directing her chattering trail.
Having surpassed its semicentennial, Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is clearly as relevant today as it once was. Although one must hope that contemporary educators are devoid of Fascist admiration and do not aim to model their pupils on the discipline of Italian militias, a sighting of a perfectly organised school outing steered through Edinburgh’s greenery, cannot help but remind one of the stiff straw hats and shiny black shows of Spark’s novel. Most likely on their way to the Grassmarket for an ‘educational’ excursion, or to the National Gallery for a spiritually moving experience in the presence of some Renaissance art swiftly followed by a discussion over cappuccino, today’s Edinburgh children are destined to move in the same elite circles as their schoolmistresses. Wonderfully flamboyant spinsters who venture to the continent for numerous adventures and affairs, each child longs for the approval of this woman in her prime, running to bask in her glory, despite telling their friends that it was just to avoid being hit by the ultimate Frisbee.
For fear of missing this natural phenomenon, I would advise that the next time you are walking to your dreaded tutorial, keep an eye open for the modern Brodie set; a parade harking back to the grandeur of Ancient Rome, and probably making snide comments about the frivolity of alfresco dining.
Photo: Craig Hodgson