Muriel Spark RIP

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so sad. she is a real hero of mine. not that she died tragically young or anything, but sad all the same. if you have never read one of her books, pick one up someday. an amazing stylist. a great imagination. humor as black as pitch.

there is a thread on ILE, but I wanted to put one here as well.

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 15 April 2006 15:20 (fourteen years ago) link

Scott, I've unfortunatately not read any Muriel Spark yet, but I've been wanting to. Is there a book (or collection?) that you would recommend as a nice starting point?

Jeff LeVine (Jeff LeVine), Sunday, 16 April 2006 02:50 (fourteen years ago) link


anthony easton (anthony), Sunday, 16 April 2006 08:07 (fourteen years ago) link

i think anthony might want you to read the abbess of crewe, jeff! her novels are pretty easy to gobble up. the collected short stories are also highly entertaining. you could start at the beginning with *The Comforters* or go for the one that made her name, *The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie*. they all have something to recommend them. *The Ballad Of Peckham Rye* is creepy fun. I LOVE her 70's stuff like *Hothouse On The East River*.

scott seward (scott seward), Sunday, 16 April 2006 10:20 (fourteen years ago) link

new york times obit:

Published: April 16, 2006

Muriel Spark, known for her finely polished, darkly comic prose and for the unforgettable Miss Jean Brodie, one of the funniest and most sinister characters in modern fiction, died Friday at a hospital in Florence, Italy. She was 88.

Ms. Spark's death was announced yesterday, The Associated Press reported, by Massimiliano Dindalini, the mayor of the Tuscan village of Civitella della Chiana, where she had lived for almost 30 years.

Her work, unlocked from her innermost memories of her experiences before and after her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1954, built a canon of short, sometimes macabre, sometimes humorous novels that sought to pare away the absurdities of human behavior.

Ms. Spark's first novel was published when she was 39, and after that she supplied a stream of slender novels and enigmatic short stories peopled with such curiosities as narrators from beyond the grave, flying saucers, grandmotherly smugglers with bread bins full of diamond-studded loaves and individuals of so little substance that they disappear when the door closes.

In her writing, evil is never far away, violence is a regular visitor and death is a constant companion. Her themes were generally serious but nearly always handled with a feather-light touch.

It is this lightness, and a contrived detachment toward her characters, that became the target of the harshest criticism of her work, which at her death included more than 20 novels, several collections of short stories, poetry, criticism, biography, plays and a handful of children's books.

Some accused her of coolness and even cruelty toward the characters she invented and then sent — sometimes quite merrily — to terrible deaths.

"People say my novels are cruel because cruel things happen and I keep this even tone," she said in an interview in The New Yorker. "I'm often very deadpan, but there's a moral statement too, and what it's saying is that there's a life beyond this, and these events are not the most important things. They're not important in the long run."

She was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh on Feb. 1, 1918, the daughter of Bernard Camberg, an engineer whose Jewish family had settled earlier in Scotland, and his wife, the former Sarah Elizabeth Maud Uezzell, a Protestant from a country village near London.

When she was 5 she began attending James Gillespie's High School for Girls, where she became one of the crème de la crème of students selected for a specialized and somewhat unorthodox curriculum by Christina Kay, the teacher who would become the model for the protagonist in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (1961), which was later adapted for the stage and film.

Muriel Camberg acquired her Spark from her brief, and as she had put it, "disastrous," marriage at the age of 19 to Sydney Oswald Spark, 13 years her senior, who was about to leave Scotland to teach in Africa.

He was known as S. O. S., a fitting nickname, it turned out, when his mental instability and violence led her to end the marriage after seven miserable years. "He became a borderline case, and I didn't like what I found on either side of the border," she wrote in her 1992 autobiography, "Curriculum Vitae."

They lived in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and their union produced her only child, a son, Robin.

She kept the name Spark, partly for her son's sake and partly because she thought it had "some ingredient of life and of fun."

She longed to return to Britain, but she was trapped in Rhodesia for most of World War II because of wartime restrictions on travel. She finally succeeded in returning aboard a troopship in 1944, leaving her son, then 6, in the care of convent nuns in Central Africa until the war was over.

Once home, she went to London in search of work, taking up residence at the Helena Club, which later became the model for the May of Teck Club, the setting for her 1963 novel, "The Girls of Slender Means."

Propaganda and Poetry

In London she landed a job with the Foreign Office in a secret division that disseminated black propaganda, a brand of disinformation she described as "detailed truth with believable lies." The reports, broadcast on what masqueraded as a German radio station, used real names and addresses to lend veracity to invented stories, and the announcers were German prisoners of war. Although the fabricated news items were aimed at undermining the Nazis, there were times when they worked too well and surfaced as news in the British press.

After the war she worked at a jewelry trade publication, Argentor, in London, joined the Poetry Society and later became editor of its Poetry Review, a job that lasted for two tempestuous years before she was dismissed. Her innovations there included paying for worthy submissions and ending the practice of accepting payments from poets, a change that drastically altered the content of the review and outraged its establishment.

She founded a short-lived literary magazine, then went to work for a publishing house, devoting the remainder of her time to writing poetry, doing book reviews and writing and editing scholarly works, including the letters of John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Ms. Spark said she discovered through the writings of Cardinal Newman that the foundations of the Roman Catholic church corresponded with her personal convictions. She described her conversion to Catholicism as a natural step in her life. "There was no blinding revelation in my case," she wrote in her autobiography.

Her first novel, "The Comforters" (1957), was born of religion and delusions. Newly converted and living in London in 1954, during the period of postwar food rationing, Ms. Spark ate little and chased away her hunger with Dexedrine, a combination that led to a period of hallucinations. The words she had once manipulated turned on her, trapping her in a fog of anagrams and crosswords and convincing her that a code ran through the literature she read.

After a few months, she sought medical help and stopped taking the amphetamines, but remained weak and ill. It was at this troubled time in Ms. Spark's life that Graham Greene stepped in, and for a while she was sustained by the money he sent, along with bottles of red wine, which, she wrote, "took the edge off cold charity."

In "The Comforters," a young woman recovering from a breakdown finds that she is a character in a novel that is being written on a phantom typewriter that only she can hear.

Religion is present in Ms. Spark's work in a variety of guises, from the unseen and unforgiving hand in "Memento Mori" (1959) to the hypocrisy of self-righteously pious characters like the couple in the short story "The Black Madonna." Later in her life, the issue of her religious heritage became a persistent irritant.

She traced the seeds of "Memento Mori," her third novel, to her childhood, when she learned about old age and human frailty at close range, caring for her dying grandmother. Although the novel is steeped in death and deception it is at times unabashedly hilarious. In the book, one elderly person after another in a close circle gets a mysterious phone call with a simple message: "Remember, you must die." This slim novel about confronting mortality, packed with sex, blackmail and mystery, was adapted for the stage.

While Ms. Spark's books cover a broad territory of plot and character, some central similarities can be found in many of the novels and short stories.

Michiko Kakutani, in a review of Ms. Spark's novel "Reality and Dreams" in The New York Times in 1997, described the author's approach as a recipe: "Take a self-enclosed community (of writers, schoolgirls, nuns, rich people, etc.) that is full of incestuous liaisons and fraternal intrigue; toss in a bombshell (like murder, suicide or betrayal) that will ricochet dangerously around this little world; and add some allusions to the supernatural to ground these melodramatics in an old-fashioned context of good and evil. Serve up with crisp, authoritative prose and present with 'a light and heartless hand.' "

Delving Into School Secrets

This recipe appears with variations in novels including "The Ballad of Peckham Rye" (1960) , in which a truly devilish young man who calls himself an industrial analyst insinuates himself into the life of a community and goes about creating suspicion among neighbors, delving into personal secrets and destroying lives.

It reappears in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," which provides a memorable example of a small and controlled community — a girls school in Edinburgh in the 1930's — in which the imperious teacher molds lives in a way few educators can.

"Give me a girl at an impressionable age and she will be mine for life," intones the elegant Miss Brodie, who does not care whether her charges know their history or arithmetic as long as they have an appreciation of the finer things: art, Mussolini, proper care of the complexion, Franco.

She captivates her students and enriches their lives while exerting unnatural control, grooming them to serve her will, whether in the bed of one of her lovers, as her personal spy or as a martyr to one of her political causes. Her single-mindedness in devoting her "prime" to her students has consequences for every life she touches, from the men who love her to the student who is the author of her undoing.

Jay Presson Allen's adaptation for the stage became a vehicle in London in 1964 for Vanessa Redgrave, on Broadway in 1968 for Zoe Caldwell, who won a Tony for her performance, and in Hollywood in 1969 for Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for best actress in the role.

No other book by Ms. Spark has received the widespread popular acclaim and exposure of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," but in subsequent interviews, the author expressed a firm preference for dwelling on the future rather than the past.

In 1965 she published "The Mandelbaum Gate," a heftier book and one that seems overstuffed by her standards. Set in Jerusalem against the backdrop of the war-crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann, "The Mandelbaum Gate" tackles questions of religion, memory and history superimposed on a torturous plot. The book won the James Tait Black Memorial prize.

In "The Driver's Seat," published in 1970, a woman embarks on a wild search through Europe for the man who will kill her. With "Hothouse on the East River" in 1973, she moved the locale to New York, and the next year she responded to the Watergate scandal with "The Abbess of Crewe," her own tale of burglars and stolen secrets set in yet another type of institution — a convent. "The Only Problem," in 1984, returns to the book of Job for inspiration.

Divine retribution of a sort neatly ties up her book "Aiding and Abetting" (2000), a fictional tale of a real man, Lord Lucan, known as Lucky, who killed his children's nanny, whom he apparently mistook for his wife in the dark, severely battered his wife, then disappeared, with the help of his friends. In the novel, two men claim to be the aging Lord Lucan, and both present themselves to a very high-priced Paris therapist who is fleeing her own past — that of a fraudulent stigmatic.

Her last book, "The Finishing School" (2004), revisits the themes of boarding schools and envy.

Ms. Spark was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1967, became a Dame of the British Empire in 1993 and in 1997 won the David Cohen Literature Prize for lifetime achievement.

She took issue, however, with the label "British writer." She told one interviewer, "I am Scottish by formation." She pointed out repeatedly that the bulk of her life had been spent in other countries. After London, she lived briefly in New York in the 1960's, then abandoned the crush of the literary world for Rome, where she had a rich social life and entertained lavishly.

Alliance and Estrangement

In Rome, she met the painter and sculptor Penelope Jardine, who became her secretary and later her companion. The two women traveled together, lived together, and over the years their lives grew deeply intertwined.

Interviewers repeatedly asked about the nature of the relationship of the two women who spent so many years together. Ms. Spark brushed aside the idea that their involvement was romantic; it was characterized as an "old-fashioned friendship."

Ms. Jardine purchased a sprawling medieval church compound in Tuscany, and they ultimately settled there. There Ms. Spark settled into her routine of writing in her favorite composition books, in longhand, using only pens untouched by other human hands, and rarely rewriting or revising what flowed from those pens. Ms. Jardine handled the business of everyday life, down to the typing of Ms. Spark's work.

When asked in an interview what she contributed to the household, Ms. Spark said she made her own bed, took morning tea to Ms. Jardine and took her out to meals. "I think I pull my weight somehow or other," she said.

She saw her craft, she said in a 2004 interview, as driven by inspiration from an "outside force" unlocking memory in a manner derived from her reading of Marcel Proust.

"It inspired me more than anything," she said at the time. "I wouldn't have wanted to write like Proust, but I could see what you could do with memory. I could see what you could do with incidents. It was after reading Proust that I found I rather liked writing prose."

In her later years it became clear that she and her son, Robin, a painter who lives in Edinburgh, were irreconcilably estranged over various issues, including what he referred to as her abandonment of him, as well as her opinions about his ability as an artist and his public statements about their heritage.

Ms. Spark was harsh in her public criticism of his work and open about their estrangement. She told a newspaper: "He can't sell his lousy paintings, and I have had a lot of success. He keeps sending them to me and I don't know what to do with them. I can't put them on my wall. He's never done anything for me, except for being one big bore."

Their public feud extended to their religions and spilled into letters to newspapers and became a part of Ms. Spark's literary history when she donated letters from her son to the National Library of Scotland. Mr. Spark, who embraced Judaism about the same time his mother converted to Roman Catholicism, insisted that her mother had been Jewish, which by matrilineal inheritance would make him Jewish by birth; Ms. Spark, who considered herself only half-Jewish, maintained that though her father was Jewish, her mother was not.

Critics have disagreed on how to classify her work, which is alternately bleak and side-splitting. John Updike spoke of "fun-house plots, full of trapdoors, abrupt apparitions and smartly clicking secret panels." Barbara Grizzuti Harrison called her a "profoundly serious comic writer whose wit advances, never undermines or diminishes, her ideas."

Taking the opposite view, Robert Maurer questioned the emotional underpinnings of her fiction, writing, "One wonders how vast a reserve of sympathy lies beneath the iceberg of her consciousness, and how far beyond trickery her work would go if she let it show through."

Ms. Spark said in several interviews that she would rather not fit neatly into any literary category. "I have a comic strain, but my novels are serious," she said in 1993. "Sometimes one makes one's own category, you know."

scott seward (scott seward), Sunday, 16 April 2006 10:23 (fourteen years ago) link

from the sunday times (uk):

Comment: Allan Massie: Granite beneath that Spark of genius
Muriel Spark’s first novel, The Comforters, was published when I was 18. I read it almost immediately and was entranced. It was clever, odd, mysterious, very funny, wholly individual. Like so many of my generation I have been her constant and devoted reader.

She started at the top and remained there. One of the first to admire and draw attention to her work was Evelyn Waugh. In a letter to her he wrote, very perceptively: “Most novelists find there is one kind of book they can write and go on doing it with variations until death. You seem to have an inexhaustible source.” So, indeed, she did.

Muriel was in her late thirties when that first novel came out. Others followed in rapid succession. It was as if a dam had broken and a talent long repressed had been allowed to flow freely. I was at Cambridge then. How greedily and with what joy we gobbled them up. They were the kind of novels from which you delighted to read passages aloud to your friends, to share the jokes. Did we then realise she was also a stern moralist? Probably not. But she was. “You never get all you want in life,” says a character in The Bachelors.

In those days she was a cult novelist and we were happy to be members of the cult. The success of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie changed all of that, made her an international success. The most Scottish of her books, this story of a charismatic Edinburgh schoolmistress and the little girls whom she tries to mould became a play and film. It caught the essence of a particular Edinburgh.

“My whole education, in and out of school,” she once wrote, “seemed to pivot around the word ‘nevertheless’ . . . My teachers used it a great deal. All grades of society constructed sentences bridged by ‘nevertheless’ . . . I can see the lips of tough elderly women in musquash coats taking tea at MacVittie’s, enunciating this word of final justification . . . I find that much of my literary composition is based on the nevertheless idea . . . It was on the nevertheless principle that I turned Catholic . . .”

It is a key passage to understanding Muriel Spark. When, in the late 1970s, I wrote a short critical study of her novels, the idea of “nevertheless” ran through the text.

To the end, although self-exiled from Edinburgh, the city where she could not possibly live as an adult, she nevertheless, again, always seemed to me to belong there. It was not difficult to imagine her taking tea in Jenner’s or in the old North British hotel, delivering judgment. She wrote of the city’s “informed air . . . its haughty and remote anarchism”.

In the 1960s she lived in some style, in New York and then Rome. Her novels likewise escaped the dark closes of Edinburgh and the bed-sitter wastelands of Kensington and Earls Court in London. Usually short, often dark, still incomparably witty, her subject was increasingly the monstrous irresponsibility of the rich. She juggled with time to reveal the ineluctable working of consequence. For there was in her always, beneath the fun and the glitter, a grim sense — Calvinist? Jewish? — that you are what you make of yourself, that character is destiny.

When I came to write that little book I concentrated wholly on the work. That was prudent. Her personal life was private and she guarded it fiercely. When an old friend, sometime lover and literary collaborator, Derek Stanford, wrote revealingly in his memoirs about their time together, her fury and resentment were fierce. Years later she had her revenge, depicting him with savage contempt in A Far Cry from Kensington. If this seemed disproportionate, his offence was, to her, unforgivable.

So it was with some trepidation that I sent her a copy of my book. Fortunately she approved, thereafter gave me constant encouragement. I met her soon after at a little dinner given in her honour at the Garrick Club in London. There was nothing of the grande dame in her manner, no insistence on being the cynosure of attention. On the contrary, she seemed modest and friendly. Yet one suspected that it would be very easy to cross an invisible boundary into forbidden territory.

Thereafter we met occasionally when she came to Scotland. To my regret now I never took up the invitation, given more than once, to visit her in Italy. We corresponded from time to time. She gave me a short story to publish when I was editing a literary magazine in Edinburgh and did not remark on the meagreness of the fee I was able to offer. I continued to review her novels and sent her books of my own if I thought — or hoped — they might interest her. She was punctilious in expressing thanks and kind enough to say she liked them. When, somewhat to my embarrassment, my publishers sent her one of my novels in the hope of getting a quote that could be put on the jacket, she gave them the most generous puff I have ever had. I like to think she meant it, but it may have just been good manners. Her manners were very good, in an old-fashioned Edinburgh style.

I knew her for almost 30 years, but I realise I never really knew the woman as distinct from the author. I was going to write that scores of people must have known her much better. But I wonder if this was so. I rather suspect that nobody, in her later life anyway, knew her well except the sculptor Penelope Jardine, the friend with whom she shared a house in Tuscany for the last quarter-century.

Despite her exile, Spark considered herself always to be a Scot and her Edinburgh upbringing remained central to her habit of thought and way of writing. She retained an affection for the city of her youth and happy memories of it.

Light-hearted, witty, yet profoundly serious, her books puzzled as many as they delighted. How could a novel be as sparkling as a glass of champagne and yet deal with the ultimate questions of human existence? But that’s what she offered.

Beneath the frivolity of manner and the jokes, there was granite. And what can be more Scottish than that? Ultimately her view of life and human nature was stern, cold, unforgiving. Nevertheless, how she delighted in the glittering surface, too. What fun she had with all evidence of folly and vanity. What deep pleasure she has given for so long to so many. There was no writer quite like her.

scott seward (scott seward), Sunday, 16 April 2006 10:27 (fourteen years ago) link

from the scotsman:

Dame Muriel Spark dies aged 88

MURIEL Spark was the greatest Scottish novelist of modern times, the irony being that she departed Scotland as a teenager and returned thereafter only for brief visits. Yet this distance may well have helped her as a novelist of international acclaim. Like Stevenson before her, she clung to Scottishness, and her roots are evident in everything she wrote.

Famed as she eventually was for 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' - which remains the best novel ever penned about Edinburgh - there was (and is) so much more to Spark. Her first novel, The Comforters (1957) was about a woman who knew she was a character in a novel, making it clear that Spark was influenced as much by contemporary experiments in fiction as by the Border ballads she had read in her youth. Her final novel, The Finishing School (2004) is about the process of writing and the agony of being a (fading) writer.

Yet critics often ignored the edgy, experimental side of Spark's craft, opting instead to focus on her glittering prose and comedic lightness of touch. Her genius stems from the fact that she was an expert stylist who could engage the general reader while still posing tough moral questions. Her best novels are as tightly constructed as poems, packing more meaning into their short duration than would appear possible.

Spark began her life as a poet - one of her early attempts winning her a prize at James Gillespie's School. After a short, failed marriage, and wartime work in London, she edited a poetry magazine and started to go quietly mad, existing as she did in genteel poverty with a young son to feed, making do with coffee and pills. Graham Greene helped her financially (on the understanding that she would never attempt to thank him), and this gave Spark the strength to fictionalise her own moment of crisis in her first published novel.

Like many other people, for a long time I knew little of Spark apart from the magnificent film version of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. But after finishing my undergraduate degree, a lecturer advised me that I might want to apply to do a PhD - he also mentioned Spark as a suitable subject.

The outcome was that I spent three years reading her books intently, writing chapters towards my thesis. Her best work combines a sense of the comic macabre with piercing satire. In an essay, she said that the modern novel should prick the conscience while being harsh and mocking - the only possible reaction to the absurdity of the contemporary scene.

Spark was a Catholic convert, and much of her best work reads like an extended dialogue with herself about the nature of God. In novels such as The Only Problem and The Mandelbaum Gate specific theological debates are touched on, the 'problem' being human suffering - why would God allow it to happen? What is the nature of evil and how are we to understand it in a religious context?

If these matters sound weighty, they are balanced by elegant phrasing and the novelist's empathy with her characters - the reader never feels preached to or barracked.

The problem, perhaps, for Spark herself is that she never seemed to fit with the late-20th century notion of what Scottish fiction was. As Lanark, Kelman and Irvine Welsh arrived, it seemed that a particular tone of voice and way of looking at the world could be discerned in the Scottish novel. Spark's characters were usually upper-middle class and living in exotic locations, leading her to be marginalised. There was also perhaps a misconception that great literature had to come in large packages - and Spark's lengthier novels remain her least successful.

Critics and bookshops like to be able to stick a label on a writer's work, and Spark defied easy categorisation. That was what was so thrilling - you never knew quite what you were going to get. She wrote about desert island castaways (Robinson), glamorous film stars (The Public Image), convents (The Abbess of Crewe) and Lord Lucan (Aiding and Abetting). Many of these books were produced on school jotters sent to her from an Edinburgh stationer's - whether she was living in New York or Italy.

It is perhaps too soon to say what effect Spark had on Scottish literature, but her eclecticism seems to fit perfectly with the current scene, where authors feel they can write about Botswana as well as Leith, and produce science fiction as well as thrillers.

Having studied her books for years, I met Dame Muriel just the once - at the Edinburgh Book Festival two years ago. She had spoken with insight and humour about her work, and had thrilled the audience with a rare reading from Miss Jean Brodie.

By the time I approached her, I could see she was tiring, so decided to choose just one of the many books I'd taken with me to ask her to sign. It was my first edition of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She inscribed it "with admiration and warm wishes". My own admiration for her contribution to world literature knows no bounds. She was peerless, sparkling, inventive and intelligent - the crème de la crème.
Scotland's answer to Jane Austen leaves lasting legacy

HER talent was spotted when, as a 12-year-old schoolgirl, she secured her first literary prize. It was just the start of a magnificent career for Dame Muriel Spark - arguably Scotland's greatest writer of modern times - who has died, in Italy, aged 88.

Last night tributes flowed in from the literary, political and wider world for the poet, biographer and writer who passed away in hospital in Florence on Thursday.

She had lived in Civitella della Chiana, in Tuscany, for the past 26 years and had been battling health problems since last year. A small funeral service was held for her in the town yesterday.

In a tribute to his literary idol, Ian Rankin, the Edinburgh-based author of the Rebus novels who was heavily influenced by Spark, described her as "the greatest Scottish novelist of modern times".

Scots novelist Ali Smith said: "I have loved Muriel Spark's books since I was 14. I can't bear to think there will not be any more novels. She was one of the most important writers for centuries - probably on the same scale as Jane Austen."

Willy Maley, professor of English Literature at Glasgow University, said: "This is a tragic loss. She was a one-off, in the same way as Beckett or Joyce. Prolific, consistently brilliant and somebody who wrote with bravery and daring. If I was asked to prescribe a writer I would put Muriel Spark at the top of the list. She was much more than Miss Jean Brodie. Across five decades she made herself a genius."

Spark was made an honorary citizen of Civitella della Chiana last September. Its mayor Massimliano Dindalini yesterday joined in the tributes. "She was very open," he said. "Her loss will be very difficult to overcome. She was a simple person, affectionate and considerate."

Dr Gavin Wallace, head of literature at the Scottish Arts Council, described Spark's death as "an ineffably sad and deep loss to literature".

He said: "Her achievement and influence as Scotland's - if not the UK's - greatest novelist have been so vast that in an odd way she seemed to be an immutable part of the cultural landscape. I wrote to her only two weeks ago with the good news that we had secured the first Muriel Spark International Literary Fellowship, a new post to which she graciously gave her name. At least that will offer one modest way of beginning to honour her enormous legacy."

Ordinary fans of Spark's work around the world left glowing tributes to her talent.

"This Easter weekend, a literary spark has been extinguished," Arun Khanna, of Indianapolis, United States, wrote on the BBC's website.

Lynn, of Hashimoto, Japan, said: "The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie was an utter classic. Muriel Spark was way ahead of her time. RIP."

Much closer to home, Grant Russell, from Livingston, West Lothian, summed up the reaction of many Scots. He wrote: "At school, I was uninterested in English until The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was handed to me to study for class. I am now studying on a university course which relies heavily on my understanding of the English language, so thank you Muriel Spark. Rest in peace."

Spark grew up in the Bruntsfield area of Edinburgh. At Kays bookshop in nearby Morningside, manager Donald Grant said: "It's a very sad end of a chapter of Scottish literature. She was easily one of the best authors Scotland has ever produced and she is right up there with the greats."

Spark wrote more than 20 novels during her long career. But it was the accent of her birth and youth in Edinburgh, where she attended James Gillespie's High School for Girls, that provided the prototype for her most famous character. The 1961 novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, about a narcissistic 1930s Scottish teacher, brought her to international attention. Its portrayal on the silver screen won Dame Maggie Smith a best actress Oscar in 1969.

Among Spark's many literary achievements were the TS Eliot prize in 1992 and the British Literature Prize in 1997. The Scottish Arts Council created the Muriel Spark International Fellowship in 2004. Spark was made a Dame in 1993 in recognition of her services to literature. She was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978, and Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 1996.

Leading politicians last night joined in the tributes. Scotland's culture minister Patricia Ferguson said: "Dame Muriel Spark was a great Scottish woman who led a fascinating life, producing work over more than half a century which has transcended generations and entertained millions."

Mike Russell, the writer and former SNP culture spokesman, added: "She was one of Scotland's most important voices in the 20th century."

Stuart Kelly, Scotland on Sunday's literary editor, said: "Spark's oeuvre is unparalleled in contemporary Scottish writing - acerbic, tender, insightful and nuanced. It's a keen loss, not just in terms of a truly great writer, but of a writer who was exceptionally generous with her time and advice to younger authors."

scott seward (scott seward), Sunday, 16 April 2006 10:35 (fourteen years ago) link

My girlfriend bought The Finishing School from a second hadn shop on Friday. Got home, turned on the news and found out she had died.

I like her books very much.

Mikey G (Mikey G), Tuesday, 18 April 2006 08:38 (fourteen years ago) link

The Seraph and the Zambesi, her short story competition winner from 1951.

Mädchen (Madchen), Thursday, 20 April 2006 09:20 (fourteen years ago) link

I wrote a column about her great books for Bookslut last year. (self promotion alert)

James Morrison (JRSM), Friday, 21 April 2006 04:52 (fourteen years ago) link

loitering with intent and prime

the pug, Friday, 21 April 2006 14:41 (fourteen years ago) link

ten years pass...

started reading 'the prime of miss jean brodie', im enjoying it..

what is w this cover btw

johnny crunch, Saturday, 24 December 2016 14:08 (three years ago) link

johnny crunch, Saturday, 24 December 2016 14:09 (three years ago) link

I have been slowly and sort-of chronologically making my way through her work over the past few years. Just now finishing up The Bachelors and wanted to drop in to say that this is a great, great book that no one ever talks about.

cwkiii, Monday, 26 December 2016 21:28 (three years ago) link

xp LOL

flopson, Monday, 26 December 2016 23:52 (three years ago) link

one year passes...

Recent BBC documentary - I wouldn't say its enormously insightful but still an enjoyable watch, and a reminder that I need to track down those books of hers which I never got around to.

.robin., Wednesday, 27 June 2018 04:12 (two years ago) link

Great thread, hadn't seen it before. I've only read Brodie so far, but impressed by her use of "spoilers" to turn attention this way and that, yet also undersells the characters---if you want to think and/or care about them in a certain way, there's plenty room. Although she does introduce us to some historical context, such as Brodie's being of the generation of women with not a lot of male contemporaries (because WWI), so previous expectations, pressures, possibilities were off-kilter, continuing into Depression and WWII at least.

dow, Thursday, 28 June 2018 00:01 (two years ago) link

Also this thread:

RIP Muriel Spark

I've spent the last decade reading or re-reading her work. A joy.

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 28 June 2018 00:19 (two years ago) link

Haven't read this yet, but Margaret Drabble on Spark:

Mince Pramthwart (James Morrison), Friday, 29 June 2018 02:52 (two years ago) link

one year passes...

Just finishing up The Takeover. This book is completely bonkers in the best possible way.

cwkiii, Wednesday, 24 July 2019 02:20 (one year ago) link

most of them are!

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 24 July 2019 02:23 (one year ago) link

Haha very true.

cwkiii, Wednesday, 24 July 2019 02:23 (one year ago) link


U or Astro-U? (James Redd and the Blecchs), Wednesday, 24 July 2019 17:39 (one year ago) link

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