Muriel Spark – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1961

G Telfer -Bear

There were two exceptions on the staff, who felt neither resentment nor indifference towards Miss Brodie, but were, on the contrary, her supporters on every count. One of these was Mr Gordon Lowther, the singing master for the whole school, Junior and Senior. The other was Mr Teddy Lloyd, the Senior girls’ art master. They were the only men on the staff. Both were already a little in love with Miss Brodie, for they found in her the only sex-bestirred object in their daily environment, and although they did not realize it, both were beginning to act as rivals for her attention. But so far, they had not engaged her attention as men, she knew them only as supporters, and was proudly grateful. It was the Brodie set who discerned, before she did, and certainly these men did, that Mr Lowther and Mr Llloyd were at pains to appear well, each in his exclusive right before Miss Brodie.

To the Brodie set both men looked rather like each other until habitual acquaintance proved that they looked very different. Both were red-gold in colouring. Teddy Lloyd, the art master, was by far the better-shaped, the better-featured and the more sophisticated. He was said to be half Welsh, half English. He spoke with a hoarse voice as if he had brochitis all the time. A golden forelock of his hair fell over his forehead into his eyes. Most wonderful of all, he had only one arm, the right, with which he painted. The other was a sleeve tucked into his pocket. He had lost the contents of the sleeve in the Great War.

Miss Brodie’s class had only once had an opportunity to size him up closely, and then it was in a dimmed light, for the blinds of the art room had been drawn to allow Mr Lloyd to show his lantern slides. They had been marched into the art room by Miss Brodie, who was going to sit with the girls on the end of a bench, when the art master came forward with a chair for her held in his one hand and presented in a special way with a tiny inflection of the knees, like a flunkey. Miss Brodie seated herself nobly like Britannia with her legs apart under her loose brown skirt which came well over her knees. Mr Llloyd showed his pictures from an exhibition of Italian art in London. He had a pointer with which he indicated the design of the picture in accompaniment to his hoarse voice. He said nothing of what the pictures represented, only followed each curve and line as the artists had left it off – perhaps at the edge of a cloud or the back of a chair. The ladies of the Primavera, in their netball-playing postures, provided Mr Lloyd with much pointer work. He kept on passing the pointer along the lines of their bottoms which showed through the drapery. The third time he did this a collective quiver of mirth ran along the front row of girls, then spread to the back rows. They kept their mouths shut tight against these convulsions, but the tighter their lips, the more did the little gusts of humour escape through their noses. Mr Lloyd looked round with offended exasperation.

‘It is obvious,’ said Miss Brodie, ‘that the girls are not of cultured homes and heritage. The Philistines are upon us, Mr Lloyd.’

The girls, anxious to be of cultured and sexless antecedents, were instantly composed by the shock of this remark. But immediately Mr Lloyd resumed his demonstration of artistic form, and again dragged his pointer all round the draped private parts of one of Botticelli’s female subjects, Sandy affected to have a fit of spluttering coughs, as did several girls behind her. Others groped under their seat as if looking for something they had dropped. One or two frankly leant against each other and gigled with hands to their helpless mouths.

‘I am surprised at you, Sandy.’ Said Miss Brodie. ‘I thought you were the leaven in the lump.’

Sandy looked up form her coughs with a hypocritical blinking of her eyes. Miss Brodie, however had already fastened on Mary MacGregor who was the nearest to her. Mary’s giggles had been caused by contagion, for she was too stupid to have any sex-wits of her own, and Mr Lloyd’s lesson would never have affected her unless it had first affected the rest of the class. But now she was giggling openly like a dirty-minded child of an uncultured home. Miss Brodie grasped Mary’s arm, jerked her to her feet and propelled her to the door where she thrust her ouside and shut her out, returning as one who had solved the whole problem. As indeed she had, for the violent action sobered the girls and made them feel that, in the official sense, an unwanted ring-leader had been apprehended and they were no longer in the wrong.

As Mr Lloyd had now switched his equipment to a depiction of the Madonna and Child, Miss Brodie’s action was the more appreciated, for no one in the class would have felt comfortable at being seized with giggles while Mr Lloyd’s pointer was tracing the outlines of this sacred subject. In fact, they were rather shocked that Mr Llloyd’s hoarse voice did not change its tone in the slightest for this occasion, but went on stating what the painter had done with his brush; he was almost defiant in his methodical tracing of lines all over the Mother and the son. Sandy caught his glance towards Miss Brodie as if seeking her approval for his very artistic attitude and Sandy saw her smile back as would a goddess with superior understanding smile to a god away on the mountain tops.

It was not long after this that Monica Douglas, later famous for mathematics and anger, clamed that she had seen Mr Lloyd in the act of kissing Miss Brodie. She was very definite about it in her report to the five other members of the Brodie set. There was a general excited difficulty in believing her.’

‘When?’

‘Where?’

‘In the art room after school yesterday.’

,

Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1961. Chapter 3

Image: George Telfer Bear,  1874-1973  Portrait with Still Life

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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