Muriel Spark was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh, Scotland, on February 1, 1918, the daughter of Bernard Camberg, an engineer, and Sarah Elizabeth Uezzell Camberg. When Spark was still very young, she began to write, and later, at James Gillespie’s Girls’ School in Edinburgh, she was labeled the school poet. She attended Heriot Watt College from 1935 to 1937. In 1937, she married Sydney O. Spark and settled down in Rhodesia. They had a son, Robin Spark. Muriel Spark’s attitude toward her life in Africa is reflected in her short stories set in Africa, which show colonial society as meaningless, dull, and occasionally violent. Her attitude was doubtless colored by the fact that her marriage was failing; it was later dissolved. However, because of World War II, she was trapped in Rhodesia until 1944.
On her return to England, Spark became a writer for the propaganda branch of the British Intelligence Service and lived in London for some years after the war. During this period, although she occasionally published a poem or two, her primary concern was supporting herself and her son by various jobs, including writing for a jewelry trade publication and working for a press agent. After editing the Poetry Review for two years, she started her own magazine, Forum Stories and Poems, which failed after two issues. Even though she was unable to devote full time to writing, Spark was dedicated to her craft. In fact, although she enjoyed the company of men, she had already decided that she could not be a good wife, as well as a good mother and a good writer, and therefore another marriage was impossible.
Although she was to achieve fame through her novels, Spark’s first book-length works were in other genres. An edition of Anne Brontë’s work, prepared jointly by Spark and the critic and poet Derek Stanford, never appeared in print, but in 1950 Spark and Stanford published an edition of essays titled Tribute to Wordsworth. Spark’s first independent critical work was Child of Light: A Reassessment of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1951; revised as Mary Shelley, 1987). It was followed by a collection of her own poems, The Fanfarlo, and Other Verse (1952), and by other critical works, including that which has received the highest acclaim, John Masefield (1953).
While writing her work on Masefield, Spark began to reassess the novel genre. Even though she had won a short-story contest in...
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