The Stories of Muriel Spark Critical Essays

Muriel Spark


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Spark satirizes the foibles of human nature in her short stories. Her Catholic belief in humankind’s fall from grace and Original Sin are crucial to her worldview. Often she is the detached observer who describes her characters in a reserved tone, never passing judgment directly but exposing the characters for what they really are—good or evil, sincere or corrupt. Spark enlists the reader as her comrade even when her characters narrate a tale in the first person. Yet Spark’s frequent use of a first-person narrator does not necessarily bring the reader closer to the story’s action. Often she maintains a detached tone that effectively removes the reader from the emotion of the plot’s situation. For example, in “The Portobello Road” Needle’s ghost voice calmly relates the details of her murder. Her matter-of-fact tone in describing her death reinforces a sense of detachment and irony. Spark’s wry humor is evident when Needle explains that her “good friend” George strangled her with hay in a deserted pasture, and the resulting news headline read, “Needle Found in Haystack.”

Spark often employs supernatural elements in her stories to expose the frailties of her characters. In her first story, “The Seraph and the Zambesi,” which won a 1951 writing contest sponsored by the Observer, arrogant playwright Samuel Cramer feels only jealousy and contempt when a genuine heavenly angel makes an appearance in his Christmas masque. Similarly, Susan Kyle in “The Executor” is haunted by her late uncle’s spirit when she tries to claim his unpublished novel as her own. Spark often uses supernatural forces to expose the selfish motives of her characters.

Adults are not the only ones to fall...

(The entire section is 714 words.)