(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In her final novel, The Finishing School, Spark again demonstrated her gift for satirical comedy. The targets of her satire are the proprietors of College Sunrise, a school temporarily based in Lausanne, Switzerland, and the teenage students whose well-to-do parents deposit them there, mistakenly assuming that their offspring will emerge with a store of useful knowledge. What the parents do not know is that Rowland Mahler and his wife, Nina Parker, have set up the school purely as a moneymaking project. Though he teaches creative writing with authority, at twenty-nine Rowland has not yet published anything of note. However, with their income from the school, which is actually run by his long-suffering wife, he has no need to work. At last he has time to finish the great novel he is sure he has within him. Unfortunately, Rowland finds that he cannot write it: He has developed a severe case of writer’s block.

Eighteen-year-old Chris Wiley, who is one of Rowland’s creative writing students, has no such problem. He is moving right along with a novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, and despite the author’s inexperience and his cavalier attitude toward historical fact, he is already being contacted by potential publishers. Rowland’s jealousy of the younger writer, intensified by his unacknowledged sexual feelings for him, rapidly develops into an obsession so overwhelming that Rowland can think of nothing but killing his rival.

Such a plotline could...

(The entire section is 513 words.)