Loitering with Intent

by Muriel Spark

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 381

Fleur Talbot begins her tale by reaching back almost a year. Although she has no job or prospects, this does not quell her spirits. She sets out to tell of her experiences with the non-profit writing group where she formerly worked.

I had a number of marvellous friends, full of good and evil. I was close on penniless but my spirits were all the more high because I had recently escaped from the Autobiographical Association . . . where I was thought rather mad, if not evil.

While working at the Association, Fleur, who is involved with a married man, proclaims her intent not to marry but to write poetry. Beryl, a secretary there, pronounces a common attitude of the time (the late 1940s).

But you could get married and have children, surely, and write poetry after the children had gone to bed.

Although Fleur’s job is transcribing and editing other writers’ manuscripts, she cannot resist behaving as a writer herself and “improving” their works. The various association members’ memoirs had many factors common.

One was nostalgia, another was paranoia, a third was a transparent craving . . . to appear likeable . . . Typing out and making sense of these compositions was an agony to my spirit until I hit on the method of making them expertly worse; and everyone concerned was delighted with the result.

After a time, the director, Sir Quentin, takes her off autobiography duty and has her do personal secretarial duties for him. She has been writing a novel and has made good progress in getting it published. She anticipates that its success will leave her on solid financial footing, as she explains one day to Sir Quentin. Doubting that this is a practical expectation, he asks her,

Don’t you think you’ve had delusions of grandeur?

Dumbstruck, Fleur recognizes this question as an exact quotation from her novel. Sir Quentin then reveals a copy of her manuscript, which he had kept in his desk drawer. Fleur realizes that she has been trapped by Sir Quentin into admitting she has written the novel, which she has been keeping secret from him. Although she had already recognized he was badly mistreating the rest of the staff, at this moment she realizes that she is not, as she had assumed, safe from his schemes.

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