Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

One of the most important themes of this novel is the question Fleur asks when she is exploring the novelist’s world: What is truth? Though she appears to answer the question by suggesting the imaginative freedom which is the artist’s domain, Fleur really does not give a direct response to the question, probably because the question is ultimately unanswerable. Instead she writes an autobiography which is about writing autobiographies and writing novels—about life and art—implying that the process of writing is the most appropriate way to explore the question.

Bracketing Fleur’s project as autobiographer writing about life and art, there is Muriel Spark’s own creation: a novel about this complicated project. Thus the search for an answer takes various forms, all of which involve the mingling of truth and fiction, just as the fiction Loitering with Intent includes references to and specific quotations from both Fleur’s novel Warrender Chase and two classic autobiographies, Cardinal John Henry Newman’s Apologia pro Vita Sua (1864) and Benvenuto Cellini’s Autobiography (1728). Muriel Spark tells her story and asks her questions in many different ways. As Fleur notes, “The true novelist, one who understands the work as a continuous poem, is a myth-maker, and the wonder of the art resides in the endless different ways of telling a story, and the methods are mythological by nature.” The creator Fleur and her creator Muriel Spark both loiter with intent; they hang around aimlessly, aiming to tell their stories, ask their questions, play their serious games.