Muriel Spark is one of the most critically acclaimed of contemporary novelists. Born Muriel Sarah Camberg, Spark was educated at James Gillespie’s School for Girls (which appears fictionally as the Marcia Blaine School in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and wrote poetry from the age of nine. At the age of nineteen she moved to Rhodesia and married S. O. Spark; they had one son, Robin. Many of Spark’s short stories (such as “Bang-Bang You’re Dead,” “The Go-Away Bird,” and “The Curtain Blown by the Breeze”) can be linked to this period of her life.
In 1944, divorced from her husband and having returned to England, Spark began work with the Political Intelligence Office of the British Foreign Office, which was concerned with anti-Nazi propaganda. There, she gained an appreciation for the paradoxes of fact made into fiction and fiction presented as fact that figure in many of her novels. After the war, Spark was appointed General Secretary of the Poetry Society in London, and between 1948 and 1949 she served not only as editor of Poetry Review but also as coeditor and cofounder (with Derek Stanford) of Forum Stories and Poems. In the early 1950’s Spark’s interests turned to biography with her studies of Mary Shelley and John Masefield.
Although a critic, poet, and short fiction writer (she also wrote radio plays, a full-length drama, and a children’s book), Spark’s primary genre was the novel. Acknowledging no religious faith between her Presbyterian school days and 1952, Spark converted to Roman Catholicism in 1954 and began her career as a novelist when Macmillan and Company commissioned her to write a novel the same year. Spark said that her conversion, which was preceded by an illness and followed by several months of Jungian therapy, enabled her to write longer fiction, which she published consistently. Although her novels during the 1970’s (particularly Not to Disturb, The Driver’s Seat, and The Abbess of Crewe) reflect a bleaker view of the human condition, Spark’s work was generally satiric, focusing on the frauds,...
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