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Muriel Spark
Born February 1, 1918(1918-02-01)
Edinburgh, Scotland,
Died April 13, 2006 (aged 88)
Florence, Tuscany, Italy
Occupation novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist
Notable work(s) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The Mandelbaum Gate
The Driver's Seat

Dame Muriel Spark, DBE (b. February 1, 1918 in Edinburghd. April 13, 2006 in Florence[1]) was an award-winning Scottish novelist. In 2008, The Times newspaper named Spark among their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".[2]




Early life

She was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh, to a Jewish father and an English[3] (and Anglican) mother, and was educated at James Gillespie's High School for Girls. In 1934–35 she took a course in "Commercial correspondence and précis writing" at Heriot-Watt College. She taught English for a brief time and then worked as a secretary in a department store.[4]

On 3 September 1937, she married Sidney Oswald Spark, and soon followed him to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Their son Robin was born in July 1938. Within months she discovered that her husband was a manic depressive prone to violent outbursts. In 1940 Muriel had left Sidney and Robin. She returned to the United Kingdom in 1944 and worked in intelligence during World War II. She provided money at regular intervals to support her son as he toiled unsuccessfully over the years. Spark maintained it was her intention for her family to set up home in England, but Robin returned to Britain with his father later to be brought up by his maternal grandparents in Scotland.[5][6][7][8]

Writing career

Spark began writing seriously after the war, under her married name, beginning with poetry and literary criticism. In 1947, she became editor of the Poetry Review. In 1954, she decided to join the Roman Catholic Church, which she considered crucial in her development toward becoming a novelist. Penelope Fitzgerald, a contemporary of Spark and a fellow novelist, remarked how Spark "had pointed out that it wasn't until she became a Roman Catholic... that she was able to see human existence as a whole, as a novelist needs to do."[9] In an interview with John Tusa on BBC Radio 4, she said of her conversion and its effect on her writing: "I was just a little worried, tentative. Would it be right, would it not be right? Can I write a novel about that — would it be foolish, wouldn't it be? And somehow with my religion — whether one has anything to do with the other, I don't know — but it does seem so, that I just gained confidence…" Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh supported her in her decision.

Her first novel, The Comforters, was published in 1957. It featured several references to Catholicism and conversion to Catholicism, although its main theme revolved around a young woman who becomes aware that she is a character in a novel.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) was more successful. Spark displayed originality of subject and tone, making extensive use of flashforwards. It is clear that James Gillespie's High School was the model for the Marcia Blaine School in the novel.

After living in New York City for some years, she moved to Rome, where she met the artist and sculptor Penelope Jardine in 1968. In the early 1970s they settled in the Italian region of Tuscany and lived in the village of Civitella della Chiana, of which in 2005 Spark was made an honorary citizen. She was the subject of frequent rumours of lesbian relationships[10] from her time in New York onwards, although Spark and her friends denied their validity. She left her entire estate to Jardine, taking measures to ensure her son received nothing.[11]

She refused to agree to the publication of a biography of her written by Martin Stannard. Penelope Jardine now has the right of approval to publication; and the book was published in July 2009. 'Front row' the Radio 4 arts programme on the 27th July 2009 Stannard was interviewed in the week of the publication of the biography. According to A. S. Byatt, "She was very upset by the book and had to spend a lot of time going through it, line by line, to try to make it a little bit fairer".[12]

She received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1965 for The Mandelbaum Gate, the US Ingersoll Foundation TS Eliot Award in 1992 and the David Cohen Prize in 1997. She became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1993, in recognition of her services to literature. She has been twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize, in 1969 for The Public Image and in 1981 for Loitering with Intent.[13]

Relationship with her son

Spark and her son had a strained relationship. They had a falling out when Robin's Judaism prompted him to petition for his late grandmother to be recognized as Jewish. The devout Catholic Spark reacted by accusing him of seeking publicity to further his career as an artist.[14] During one of her last book signings in Edinburgh she responded to an enquiry from a journalist asking if she would see her son by saying 'I think I know how best to avoid him by now'.[15][16][17]


Years link to corresponding "[year] in literature" article or, in the case of poetry, to the "[year] in poetry" article:


Other works

  • Tribute to Wordsworth (edited with Derek Stanford) (1950)
  • Child of Light (a study of Mary Shelley) (1951)
  • The Fanfarlo and Other Verse (1952)
  • Selected Poems of Emily Brontë (1952)
  • John Masefield (biography) (1953)
  • Emily Brontë: Her Life and Work (with Derek Stanford) (1953)
  • My Best Mary (a selection of letters of Mary Shelley, edited with Derek Stanford) (1953)
  • The Brontë letters (1954)
  • Letters of John Henry Newman (edited with Derek Stanford) (1957)
  • The Go-away Bird (short stories) (1958)
  • Voices at Play (short stories and plays) (1961)
  • Doctors of Philosophy (play) (1963)
  • Collected Poems I (1967)
  • Collected Stories I (1967)
  • The Very Fine Clock (children's book, illustrations by Edward Gorey)(1968)
  • Bang-bang You're Dead (short stories) (1982)
  • Mary Shelley (complete revision of Child of Light) (1987)
  • Going Up to Sotheby's and Other Poems (1982)
  • Curriculum Vitae (autobiography) (1992)
  • Complete Short Stories (2001)
  • All the Poems (2004)


  1. ^ Guardian obituary.
  2. ^ The 50 greatest British writers since 1945. 5 January 2008. The Times. Retrieved on 2010-02-19.
  3. ^ Guardian obituary.
  4. ^ James Gillespies High School Official Site.
  5. ^ Author Muriel Spark dies aged 88, BBC News , April 15, 2006, accompanied by an obituary.
  6. ^ Dame Muriel Spark, 1918–2006: The novelist of identity, a May 1, 2006, Weekly Standard article
  7. ^ Spark of Genius, a consideration of the author's work in the Winter 2006 Doublethink magazine.
  8. ^ National Library of Scotland Biography
  9. ^ Hal Hager, "About Muriel Spark," Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, (New York: Harper Perennial, 1999) 141.
  10. ^ How The New Yorker Made Muriel Spark's Reputation April 17, 2006.
  11. ^ Muriel Spark leaves millions to woman friend rather than son.
  12. ^ "Companion shelves 'unfair' Spark biography".
  13. ^ publisher = The Man Booker Prizes "Muriel Spark". publisher = The Man Booker Prizes. 
  14. ^ A far cry from Morningside 23 Apr 2006
  15. ^ Book Festival readings 2004
  16. ^ Bard Mitzvah July 2, 1998
  17. ^ "Spark's son: I won't cash in on mum", The Scotsman, 14 May 2006.

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Dame Muriel Spark, DBE, née Muriel Sarah Camberg (1918-02-012006-04-13) was a Scottish novelist, short-story writer, biographer and literary critic. Three of her novels have been filmed.



  • The one certain way for a woman to hold a man is to leave him for religion.
    • The Comforters (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1957) p. 28
  • Parents learn a lot from their children about coping with life.
    • The Comforters (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1957) p. 133
  • It is impossible to repent of love. The sin of love does not exist.
  • New York, home of the vivisectors of the mind, and of the mentally vivisected still to be reassembled, of those who live intact, habitually wondering about their states of sanity, and home of those whose minds have been dead, bearing the scars of resurrection.
    • The Hothouse by the East River (London: Macmillan, 1973) p. 12

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)

All quotations are cited from the 1999 Perennial Classics reprint.

  • "I am putting old heads on your young shoulders," Miss Brodie had told them at that time, "and all my pupils are the crème de la crème."
    • P. 5
  • One's prime is elusive. You little girls, when you grow up, must be on the alert to recognise your prime at whatever time of your life it may occur. You must then live it to the full.
    • P. 8
  • To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, I call it intrusion.
    • P. 36
  • It is impossible to persuade a man who does not disagree, but smiles.
    • P. 92


  • Her sentences march under a harsh sun that bleaches color from them but bestows a peculiar, invigorating, Pascalian clarity.

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