Less Is More

Today the weather was cold and wet. For Jackie this meant continuing her planting between frequent showers. For me it meant ironing and finishing reading Muriel Spark’s classic gem, ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. Even the World Cup cricket match between South Africa and the West Indies was rained off.

The short novel tells the story of a progressive, idiosyncratic, and rebellious teacher at odds with the ethos and management of a traditional girls’ school of the 1930s. Her style is spare, insightful, and elegantly simple. Ms Spark favours lean, lucid, language, lightly telling her tale. In case there is anyone who has neither read the book nor, like me, seen the 1969 film starring Maggie Smith, I will reveal no more of the story.

My copy is the 1998 Folio Society version with illustrations by the late Beryl Cook. The cloth-bound covers feature a design by Peter Forster.

Despite being a great fan of the artist and her particular comic style I have my doubts about the choice of her to illustrate this work. Miss Brodie is as romantic as she is zany, as ultimately tragic as she is stimulating.

The last pair of these illustrations is what in a different kind of publication may be termed a centrefold.

Cook has, of course captured the exuberantly comic nature of the book, but, I think, neither the author’s lightness of touch nor her sensitivity to her characters.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s spicy pasta arrabbiata and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Cabernet Sauvignon.


  1. Having read the book and seen the film – though so long ago both are hazy in my memory – I was still surprised to read Beryl Cook had done the illustrations – and relieved to continue reading on and find your thoughts on that choice. She is a fine illustrator though isn’t she – if you take them away from the story and Dame Maggie’s portrayal.

    1. Thanks very much, Laurie. Beryl Cook was prolific – illustrations, cards, etc. Cartoonish fat women mostly. Very amusing, but perhaps a successful formula

  2. Oh, what a wonderful story (and movie) and I love the illustrations! πŸ™‚
    Yes, simplicity, clarity, etc., sometimes we need those less-days with less-things. I appreciate them.
    Ooh, a spicy AND tender meal! Yum! πŸ˜€
    HUGS for you and Jackie! πŸ™‚
    Thinking of your Mum today and wishing her well! πŸ™‚

  3. As a kid, the boys would sing to me (at me) the lead song from that movie, Prime of Miss Jean Brodie…”Jean…Jean…You’re young and alive…” Love the illustrations but it’s a good thing those boys didn’t see these book illustrations. πŸ™‚ Your dinner looks lovely.

  4. Oh you made me curious about this book, but have so little time these days I think that I will check out the movie, I just love to see Dame Maggie’s acting. Thanks Derrick.

  5. I agree with you regarding the choice of illustrator for the book. I based my teaching style on Miss Brodie thought I leaned more to communism than facism.

  6. I agree that Beryl Cook wasn’t the best choice. I love the film and think Maggie Smith was an excellent Jean Brodie.
    What a wet day it’s been!

  7. Sounds like a good read Derrick. Jackie is a trooper working in the garden in between the rain. Ah an Italian Dish for dinner…I’ll have to show Rosaria (Marco’s wife and gourmet chef from Italy).

  8. Those are amusing pictures but as you have rightly concluded, they don’t exhibit the lightness of touch that the author’s style may have captured. Excellent photos and dish!

  9. A curious contrast of styles, as you say…

    That pasta dish just leaps out of the screen making one’s mouth water at the thought.

    My compliments to the Chef! πŸ˜‰

  10. It’s a really good film, Derrick, and well worth watching. Beryl Cook has a lovely style of illustration. I’m sure that she must have been a fan of McGill’s postcards at some point in her career.

  11. I agree, Derrick, with your doubt at the suitability of Cook’s in-your-face and outre illustrations to accompany this story. Somehow there is a mismatch of style and content.

  12. I never read the book, but I do remember seeing the movie long ago. I don’t remember it, except that Maggie Smith was excellent. I agree with you and the comments that the illustrations are excellent, but perhaps not suited to the book. Your dinner looks delicious.

  13. Thank you for your book review, Derrick – and the sample of illustrations. Enticing, indeed! Have you read “Educated” by Tara Westover? I am on the last chapter of this #1 New York Times bestseller. It’s exceptionally well written and quite unusual. I recommend it. <3

  14. One of Dame Maggie’s best roles. πŸ™‚ … a far cry from Minerva McGonagall – another fictitious inspirer of young minds!. πŸ˜€

  15. I read the book many years ago, but never watched the film. I might need to revisit the first and acquaint myself with the latter.

  16. Wonderful, vivid illustrations – thank you for sharing them…
    I also appreciate Beryl Cook’s work, but agree that she may not have been the best choice for the task in this case!

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