Jeopardy! category: WOMEN AUTHORS (3-3-2015)
$2000 clue: Appropriately “The Finishing School” was the final novel by this author of “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”
The gist: Her last novel came in 2004, after an almost 60-year literary career that began just after World War II. Dame Muriel Spark, born in Edinburgh, Scotland, began writing as a profession after she moved to London, leaving her abusive husband in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She worked in British Intelligence during the end of WWII, and took up short-form writing soon afterward. It wasn’t until after her conversion to Roman Catholicism, which she credits as being crucial to her development as a writer, that she began to pen the novels for which she is best known. In 1957, she released her first novel, The Comforters. Its protagonist was, see if this sounds familiar, a novelist who had recently converted to Catholicism. Less familiar is that she begins to hear the mysterious sound of a typewriter, eventually discerning that she is indeed a character in a novel and rebelling against what she sees as her author’s wishes. Probably her best-known work, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, was published four years later in 1961. It tells the story of a young teacher, the Miss Brodie of the title, and the six young girls she takes under her wing as her favourites, who become “the Brodie set.” She exposes the Brodie set to what her fellow teachers consider to be far too much of her personal life and views, including sharing details of her love life and her admiration for the fascist ethos. She becomes romantically involved with two teachers at the school, and as time goes on and the Brodie set graduate to more senior classes, Miss Brodie attempts to insinuate them into her life more and more, going so far as to convince one to join the Spanish Nationalists, leading to her death. She eventually loses her teaching position, something her headmistress had been trying to do for some time, after one of the Brodie set tells the headmistress that Brodie could be fired for teaching fascism. The book has a non-linear plot structure, employing flash-forwards (prolepses, technically speaking) to reveal seemingly crucial events well before they take place in the main sequence of events. Some of her other novels include The Girls of Slender Means and The Driver’s Seat, and she published over twenty novels and many other works before her death in 2006.
The clue: A Triple Stumper – I feel like I’ve heard of Spark before but I can’t say where, and I definitely wouldn’t have gotten it watching the show. Still, it mentions her best-known work in a $2000 clue, indicating that the Jeopardy! writers probably didn’t have much faith in the contestants knowing this one either. And properly so, as it turned out.
In Jeopardy!: Ms. Spark is not the most populat subject in the J!Archive, but she’s not unheard of either, showing up in nine clues. Every one of them mentions The Prime of Miss Brodie, so if you ever see that book or this author, the correct response should really be a no-brainer. Her Scottish heritage shows up in two, but really, Miss Brodie and her name is what you ought to know.