John Updike said that he wrote his memoir, SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, as a preemptive strike against biographers. In the introduction to CURRICULUM VITAE, Muriel Spark says “So many strange and erroneous accounts of parts of my life have been written since I became well known, that I felt it time to put the record straight.” In Spark’s case as in Updike’s, the resulting book far transcends its originating impulse. Still, Spark’s avowal of purpose shouldn’t be dismissed as a rhetorical ploy. “I determined to write nothing,” Spark says, “that cannot be supported by documentary evidence or by eyewitnesses. I have not relied on my memory alone, vivid though it is.” That unusual proviso accounts at least in part for the distinctive flavor of this autobiography.
Spark’s account of her childhood and of the school where she was educated (the faculty included a remarkable teacher, Miss Christina Kay, who was to serve as the prototype for Miss Jean Brodie) takes up the first half of CURRICULUM VITAE. There is no sentimentality but a great deal of warmth in these memories of a vanished world.
In 1937, when she was nineteen, Spark became engaged to a man thirteen years her senior, who was about to leave for a teaching job in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Spark followed. She was to remain in Africa for seven years, though the marriage soon proved to be a disastrous mistake, ending in divorce; Spark’s husband was mentally imbalanced. After...
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