Impressionism In The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie By Miss Jean Brodie

1558 words - 6 pages

Edgar Degas had said, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see,” this sentiment is critical to understanding Impressionism as an art movement and later as a literary one. Literary Impressionist authors adopted the techniques of the artists. Both artist and author use a layering to construct impressions of their subjects. Berthe Morisot’s painting, Woman at Her Toilette, in which the painting of her subject appears to be wearing jewelry, but closer examination of the work, reveals that she used the layering of the paint to give the painting texture which creates this impression. Like Morisot, Muriel Sparks also uses the layering of her words to create an impression of her subject, Miss Jean Brodie, in her novella, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This layering contributes depth and complexity that is prevalent in the impressionistic style of art and literature. Jesse Metz, in the introduction of his book, Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics, speculates that if literature is considered an impression then it “makes surfaces show depths, make[s] fragments suggest wholes,” which also can be seen within the art style (1). Whereas the artist uses paint and brush to create an impressionistic painting, author Muriel Sparks uses the layering character perception to create the subject of her text.
Due to the subjective nature of the impressionistic art and literary style, both mediums possess an ambiguous quality. According to Bernard Dunstan, in Painting Methods of the Impressionists, impressionism “has come to have overtones and associations which can obscure its true meaning,” (11). This is also true for impressionistic literature. However, Metz argues that “ambiguity surrounds the process through which the impression ‘enters through the senses,’ and then obtains to spiritual meaning,” (7). Mets goes on to argue, “the ambiguity of [a works] solutions causes productive uncertainties,” (9). These uncertainties afford individuals the means to find meaning in the works in their own way, and allows for a variety of interpretations, in which the works appear to insist through a closer examination. This concept hold true for Sparks’ novella, and the works of Morisot and Renoir. These works lack a specific definition of what the artists are trying to convey, leaving the individual to question: Is it appropriate for Miss Brodie to relate her romantic encounters to a group of young girls? Are Morisot and Renoir trying to convey the beauty of simple, everyday tasks? Or does author and painters demonstrate the harshness of reality through a softened lens? The answers are for the individual to decide; it is all in the perception.
In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Sparks paints the portrait of Miss Jean Brodie through the perception of Sandy Stranger. Metz claims “the ‘total’ aspiration of the Impressionist writer… [is to seek] perceptual totality,” and that “fiction is both most vital and most artful when it is an impression” (1). Sparks...

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