Study Guide

Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201660-Spark.jpgMuriel Spark Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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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Muriel Spark Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Muriel Sarah Spark, née Camberg, was born and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1937, she went to Rhodesia. During her stay in Africa, she married S. O. Spark but was divorced a short time later. She has one child, her son Robin. Spark’s parents, Bernard and Sarah Elizabeth Camberg, held diverse religious faiths; her father was Jewish, while her mother was Presbyterian. Spark practiced the Anglican faith until her interest in the writings of John Henry Newman, a nineteenth century Catholic theologian, convinced her to convert to Catholicism in 1954. Her personal search for spiritual belief is reflected in many of the themes of her fiction. Consequently her works often express some moral or spiritual truth.

Spark spent several years living in British colonies in Central Africa. In 1944, she returned to England. During the war years, she wrote news articles for the political intelligence department of the British government. After the war, she held various posts in the publishing field, including a position as founder of the short-lived literary magazine The Forum. In the early 1950’s, Spark began to produce serious work in literary criticism and poetry. Hand and Flower Press published her first volume of poetry in 1952. At the same time, she was involved in editing and researching critical and biographical work on several nineteenth century literary figures, including William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Emily Brontë.

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Muriel Spark Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Muriel Spark was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 1, 1918, of a Jewish father, Bernard Camberg, and an English mother, Sarah Uezzell Camberg. She attended James Gillespie’s School for Girls in Edinburgh, an experience that later formed the background for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She lived in Edinburgh until 1937, when she married S. O. Spark and moved to Africa. During the next two years she gave birth to her son, Robin, and divorced Spark, who had become abusive and was showing signs of mental illness. She moved into an apartment with a young widow and her child and wrote poems and plays while waiting for the long process of her divorce to conclude. Her life in Rhodesia and South Africa provided background material for some of her earliest successful short stories, such as “The Portobello Road” and “The Seraph and the Zambesi.” The onset of World War II interfered with her plans to return to Scotland, and she worked at a number of jobs before managing to book passage home in 1944; because there were travel restrictions for children, her son was unable to join her for a year and a half.

During her sojourn as young divorcée awaiting the arrival of her child, Spark moved to London to find work; there she lived at the Helena Club, which had been endowed by Princess Helena, the daughter of Queen Victoria, for “ladies from good families of modest means who are obliged to pursue an occupation in London.” Spark’s experiences at the Helena Club with other young women earning their living in a big city became the background for her novel The Girls of Slender Means.

From 1944 to 1946,...

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Muriel Spark Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201660-Spark.jpgMuriel Spark Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Muriel Spark was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 1, 1918, the daughter of Bernard Camberg, an engineer, and Sarah Elizabeth Uezzell Camberg. When Spark was still very young, she began to write, and later, at James Gillespie’s Girls’ School in Edinburgh, she was labeled the school poet. She attended Heriot Watt College from 1935 to 1937. In 1937, she married Sydney O. Spark and settled down in Rhodesia. They had a son, Robin Spark. Muriel Spark’s attitude toward her life in Africa is reflected in her short stories set in Africa, which show colonial society as meaningless, dull, and occasionally violent. Her attitude was doubtless colored by the fact that her marriage was failing; it was later dissolved. However, because of World War II, she was trapped in Rhodesia until 1944.

On her return to England, Spark became a writer for the propaganda branch of the British Intelligence Service and lived in London for some years after the war. During this period, although she occasionally published a poem or two, her primary concern was supporting herself and her son by various jobs, including writing for a jewelry trade publication and working for a press agent. After editing the Poetry Review for two years, she started her own magazine, Forum Stories and Poems, which failed after two issues. Even though she was unable to devote full time to writing, Spark was dedicated to her craft. In fact, although she enjoyed the company of men, she had already decided that she could not be a good wife, as well as a good mother and a good writer, and therefore another marriage was impossible.

Although she was to achieve fame through her novels, Spark’s first book-length works were in other genres. An edition of Anne Brontë’s work, prepared jointly by Spark and the critic and poet Derek Stanford, never appeared in print, but in 1950 Spark and Stanford published an edition of essays titled Tribute to Wordsworth. Spark’s first independent critical work was Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1951; revised as Mary Shelley, 1987). It was followed by a collection of her own poems, The Fanfarlo, and Other Verse (1952), and by other critical works, including that which has received the highest acclaim, John Masefield (1953).

While writing her work on Masefield, Spark began to reassess the novel genre. Even though she had won a short-story contest in...

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Muriel Spark Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In a time when most critics and writers limited their interest to success and failure in this world, Muriel Spark provided an interesting alternative. Like her friend and patron Graham Greene, Spark believed that it is only the spiritual reality that gives significance to temporal events.

Although the wit that enlivens her narratives may be considered a divine gift, Spark’s detached tone can be explained by the long-range view dictated by her faith, which considers this world merely a testing ground for the next. Eccentric characters, preposterous plots, swift shifts between comedy and tragedy—all of these are enough like life itself to suggest that Spark’s God, too, has a sense of humor.

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Muriel Spark Biography (Novels for Students)

Muriel Spark was born February 1, 1918, in Edinburgh, Scotland. She wrote poetry and worked at various editing jobs during the late 1930s and...

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