Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In all of her novels, Muriel Spark is preoccupied with man’s relationship to God, but with The Mandelbaum Gate her emphasis changed. After she became a Roman Catholic in 1954, she emphasized the duality between body and soul, this world and the next, generally suggesting that a Catholic could escape from his anguished conflicts only by accepting the Church’s solutions, which generally demanded an offering up of something or of someone.

In The Mandelbaum Gate, the answer is not so easy, nor is the easy answer necessarily desirable. When Barbara tells Freddy, “You were never responsible for me; I’m responsible for myself,” she is emphasizing an individualism which may involve disagreement with the Church. Barbara’s own decision to marry Harry, regardless of whether the Church approves, is the result of her own spiritual development, and the fact that the certificate which frees Harry to marry her is a forgery, important only because the Church agrees to accept it, clearly points out the contrast between legalism and real spirituality. Obviously, God has worked in mysterious ways to join the two lovers, whatever barriers man and his priests may have devised. Just as obviously, Muriel Spark’s perception of man’s relationship to God has deepened since her initial conversion. No less a Catholic, she is more profoundly religious.