(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The Comforters contains two broad plot lines: Laurence Manders’ discovery of his grandmother’s involvement in a diamond-smuggling operation, and Caroline Rose’s persecution by an invisible consciousness, a “Typing Ghost” that repeats and remarks upon her thoughts and actions. Much of what happens in The Comforters is connected to the attempts of Laurence and Caroline to solve these mysteries and to prove to each other that their perceptions are grounded in a reality external to themselves.

At the beginning of the novel, Laurence has gone to his grandmother’s house in Sussex, and Caroline, a recent convert to Catholicism, is in retreat from her home in London. While Laurence is excited and intrigued by his suspicions about his grandmother, Caroline’s awareness of the Typing Ghost leads her to fear that she is going mad. With little help from Laurence, her friends, and her priest, Caroline realizes that “a writer on another plane of existence” is writing a story about her and that in believing this she has “hit on the truth.” Since the attempts of Laurence to tape the Typing Ghost’s remarks fail and her friends think her mad, Caroline’s suffering is an “isolation by ordeal” filled with a private incomprehension not unlike that experienced by the biblical Job.

At the beginning of book 2, however, the focus of the novel shifts from Caroline’s Typing Ghost to Laurence’s grandmother and her...

(The entire section is 511 words.)


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Comforters, Spark’s first published novel, is not only the story of the outlandish actions and interactions of a group of English eccentrics but also a novel about writing a novel. Spark later said that the reason she wrote The Comforters was to see whether she could do it; with her new interest in fiction, she was interested not only in writing a novel with the usual characters and plot but also in the process of creation itself.

At any rate, the work can be said to consist of two mysteries. One of them involves Louisa Jepp, a strong-minded old lady who seems to have a source of income of which her family is unaware. No one has worried much about it until she has a visit from her grandson, Laurence Manders, who possesses, or is possessed by, an obsessive curiosity. Laurence decides to uncover the source of her money; admittedly, her unusual collection of new friends, along with the diamonds hidden in the bakery goods, are enough to make anyone suspicious.

The second mystery involves the protagonist, Caroline Rose, who, like so many of Spark’s heroines, is a high-strung young woman, given to bouts of illness, and a recent convert to Catholicism. After she has run away from a Catholic retreat center, made unbearable by the self-righteous bossiness of Georgina Hogg and by the paranoid sanctimoniousness of the others in attendance, Caroline finds herself hearing the sound of typing and of voices saying the words that...

(The entire section is 468 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Bold, Alan, ed. Muriel Spark: An Odd Capacity for Vision, 1984.

Stanford, Derek. Muriel Spark: A Biographical and Critical Study, 1963.

Stubbs, Patricia. Muriel Spark, 1973.