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Impressionism in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Miss Jean Brodie

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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 impre...

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Dunstan, Bernard. Painting Methods of the Impressionists. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1976. 11-13. Print.
Gibbs, Beverly Jean. "Impressionism as a Literary Movement." The Modern Language Journal 36.4 (1952): 175-83. JSTOR. Web. 14 Jan. 2014.
"Impressionism - Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Cézanne, Degas, Guillaumin and Berthe Morisot." Impressionism. Atlantis International, 2006. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.
Matz, Jesse. "Proust's Deathless Analogy." Introduction. Literary Impressionism and Modernist Aesthetics. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. 1-11. Print.
Morisot, Berthe. A Woman at Her Toilette. 1875-1880. Oil on Canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Illnois.
Renoir, Pierre Auguste. Young Woman Sewing. 1879. Oil on canvas. The Art Institute of Chicago, Illnois.
Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. New York: Perennial Classics, 1999. Print.
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