Spark decoded

Spang on page 2 of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a topical reference, never directly referred to again in the course of the short novel, but one definitely laden with foreshadowing. The work was published in 1961, but its events begin in 1930.

At that time they had been immediately recognizable as Miss Brodie’s pupils, being vastly informed on a lot of subjects irrelevant to the authorised curriculum, as the headmistress said, and useless to the school as a school. These girls were discovered to have heard of the Buchmanites and Mussolini, the Italian Renaissance painters, the advantages to the skin of cleansing cream and witch-hazel over honest soap and water, and the word “menarche”; the interior decoration of the London house of the author of Winnie the Pooh had been described to them, as had the love lives of Charlotte Brontë and of Miss Brodie herself.

In the interwar period, the evangelist Frank N. D. Buchman formulated an approach to shared spiritual experience that became known as the Oxford Group. Even digging shallowly in the online record, it’s clear to me that Buchman’s methods attracted controversy. A snippy notice from an 1928 number of Time calls the Group a “curious collegiate cult” apparently obsessed with sex. Later in the 1930s, with war drums rumbling, Buchman and his followers organized under the banner of Moral Re-Armament (MRA). Buchman was active in Nazi Germany, ultimately denounced by the ruling party; Communists likewise attacked him. His work is also credited as one of the roots of the Alcoholics Anonymous movement.