Undoubtedly someone else is going to have this idea and write a short biography of Muriel Spark for Muriel Spark Reading Week, but I thought I’d look up some information on her in order to get a sense of her background and her writing. And when I research something, I kind of go overboard! Prior to this week, I’ve read four of her books: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, A Far Cry From Kensington, The Girls of Slender Means, and Memento Mori. I’ve reviewed the last three on this blog and I’ve chosen to read Territorial Rights (for sure) for MSRW and possibly Aiding and Abetting.
Muriel Spark (nee Camberg) was born on February 1 1918 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and attended the James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, which later served as inspiration for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Spark married Sidney Oswald Spark in 1937 and moved with him to Rhodesia. Her son Robin was born in 1938 and during WWII, after learning about her husband’s mental instability, Spark left her him and her son in order to work for the Foreign Office in a secret division that disseminated black propaganda. While she was in London, Spark lived at the Helena Club, which became the inspiration for the May of Teck Club from The Girls of Slender Means. She joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1954, a fact that would affect most of her writing in that she was able to see the larger picture. She died on April 13, 2006 in Florence, Italy.1
Muriel Spark began writing seriously after the war, beginning with poetry and literary criticism. Her first novel, The Comforters, was published in 1957, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which became one of her better-known books, was published in 1961. She later won the James Tait Black Memorial prize for The Mandelbaum Gate, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice (for The Public Image and Loitering With Intent) and in 1993 was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Starting in the 1940s, Spark made a decision to save all documentary evidence, which she later used to write her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, and which is now held by the Muriel Spark Archive at the National Library of Scotland.2There are certain similarities that can be seen throughout all of Spark’s fiction: intrigue, the macabre, a self-enclosed community, a sensational event (murder, blackmail, etc), and some sort of supernatural element.
Bibliography:Novels:The Comforters (1957)Robinson (1958)Memento Mori (1959)The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960)The bachelors (1960)The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)The Girls of Slender Means (1963)The Mandelbaum Gate (1965)The Public Image (1968)The Driver’s Seat (1968)Not to Disturb (1971)The Hothouse by the East River (1973)The Abbess of Crewe (1974)The Takeover (1976)Territorial Rights (1979)Litering With Intent (1981)The Only Problem (1984)A Far Cry From Kensington (1988)Symposium (1990)Reality and Dreams (1996)Aiding and Abetting (2000)The Finishing School (2004)Critical Biographies:John Masefield (1953)Biography:“Child of Light”: A Reassessment of Mary Wollsonecraft Shelley (1951)Edited: Selected poems of Emily Bronte (1952)Edited: The Bronte Letters (1954)Edited Jointly: Tribute to Wordsworth (1950)Emily Bronte: Her Life and Work (1953)My Best Mary: A Selection of her Letters by Mary Shelley (1953)Letters of John Henry Newman (1957)Radio Plays: The Dry River BedThe InterviewThe Party Through the WallThe Danger ZonePlay:Doctors of Philosophy (1963)Poetry:The Fanfarlo and Other Verse (1952)Collected Poems (1967)Going up to Sotheby’s and Other Poems (1982)All the Poems of Muriel Spark (2004)Short Stories:The Go-Away Bird (1958)Voices at Play (1961)Collected Stories (1967)Bang-Bang You’re Dead and Other Stories (1982)The Stories of Muriel Spark (1987)Collected Stories (1994)Open to the Public: New and Collected Stories (1997)All the Stories of Muriel Spark (2001)The Complete Short Stories (2001)The Ghost Stories of Muriel Spark (2003)Children:The Very Fine Clock (1969)The French Window and the Small Telephone (1993)Autobiography:Curriculum Vitae (1992)3
Sources:1. Muriel Spark obituary. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/16/world/16spark.html?pagewanted=all. Published April 16 2006. Last updated April 23 2010. Accessed April 21 2012.2. The Muriel Spark Archive at the National Library of Scotland. http://digital.nls.uk/murielspark/archive.html. Accessed April 21 2012.3. Muriel Spark official website. http://murielspark.com/bodyofwork.html. Last updated 2011. Accessed April 21 2012.