Muriel Spark is one of the most critically acclaimed of contemporary novelists. Born Muriel Sarah Camberg, Spark was educated at James Gillespie’s School for Girls (which appears fictionally as the Marcia Blaine School in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) and wrote poetry from the age of nine. At the age of nineteen she moved to Rhodesia and married S. O. Spark; they had one son, Robin. Many of Spark’s short stories (such as “Bang-Bang You’re Dead,” “The Go-Away Bird,” and “The Curtain Blown by the Breeze”) can be linked to this period of her life.
In 1944, divorced from her husband and having returned to England, Spark began work with the Political Intelligence Office of the British Foreign Office, which was concerned with anti-Nazi propaganda. There, she gained an appreciation for the paradoxes of fact made into fiction and fiction presented as fact that figure in many of her novels. After the war, Spark was appointed General Secretary of the Poetry Society in London, and between 1948 and 1949 she served not only as editor of Poetry Review but also as coeditor and cofounder (with Derek Stanford) of Forum Stories and Poems. In the early 1950’s Spark’s interests turned to biography with her studies of Mary Shelley and John Masefield.
Although a critic, poet, and short fiction writer (she also wrote radio plays, a full-length drama, and a children’s book), Spark’s primary genre was the novel. Acknowledging no religious faith between her Presbyterian school days and 1952, Spark converted to Roman Catholicism in 1954 and began her career as a novelist when Macmillan and Company commissioned her to write a novel the same year. Spark said that her conversion, which was preceded by an illness and followed by several months of Jungian therapy, enabled her to write longer fiction, which she published consistently. Although her novels during the 1970’s (particularly Not to Disturb, The Driver’s Seat, and The Abbess of Crewe) reflect a bleaker view of the human condition, Spark’s work was generally satiric, focusing on the frauds,...
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Muriel Sarah Spark, née Camberg, was born and educated in Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1937, she went to Rhodesia. During her stay in Africa, she married S. O. Spark but was divorced a short time later. She has one child, her son Robin. Spark’s parents, Bernard and Sarah Elizabeth Camberg, held diverse religious faiths; her father was Jewish, while her mother was Presbyterian. Spark practiced the Anglican faith until her interest in the writings of John Henry Newman, a nineteenth century Catholic theologian, convinced her to convert to Catholicism in 1954. Her personal search for spiritual belief is reflected in many of the themes of her fiction. Consequently her works often express some moral or spiritual truth.
Spark spent several years living in British colonies in Central Africa. In 1944, she returned to England. During the war years, she wrote news articles for the political intelligence department of the British government. After the war, she held various posts in the publishing field, including a position as founder of the short-lived literary magazine The Forum. In the early 1950’s, Spark began to produce serious work in literary criticism and poetry. Hand and Flower Press published her first volume of poetry in 1952. At the same time, she was involved in editing and researching critical and biographical work on several nineteenth century literary figures, including William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Emily Brontë....
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Muriel Spark was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 1, 1918, of a Jewish father, Bernard Camberg, and an English mother, Sarah Uezzell Camberg. She attended James Gillespie’s School for Girls in Edinburgh, an experience that later formed the background for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She lived in Edinburgh until 1937, when she married S. O. Spark and moved to Africa. During the next two years she gave birth to her son, Robin, and divorced Spark, who had become abusive and was showing signs of mental illness. She moved into an apartment with a young widow and her child and wrote poems and plays while waiting for the long process of her divorce to conclude. Her life in Rhodesia and South Africa provided background material for some of her earliest successful short stories, such as “The Portobello Road” and “The Seraph and the Zambesi.” The onset of World War II interfered with her plans to return to Scotland, and she worked at a number of jobs before managing to book passage home in 1944; because there were travel restrictions for children, her son was unable to join her for a year and a half.
During her sojourn as young divorcée awaiting the arrival of her child, Spark moved to London to find work; there she lived at the Helena Club, which had been endowed by Princess Helena, the daughter of Queen Victoria, for “ladies from good families of modest means who are obliged to pursue an occupation in London.” Spark’s experiences at the Helena Club with other young women earning their living in a big city became the background for her novel The Girls of Slender Means.
From 1944 to 1946,...
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