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About Muriel Spark

Muriel Spark, acclaimed Scottish author and Catholic convert. 

Muriel Spark was born Muriel Sarah Camberg in Edinburgh on February 1, 1918 to a Scottish/Jewish father and an English (Anglican) mother. She was educated at the Edinburgh James Gillespie's School for Girls - an experience which undoubtedly inspired the representation of Edinburgh public school life in her most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. She was a talented student and at age 12 received the Walter Scott prize for a poem entitled 'Out of a Book'. After leaving school, Spark took a course in précis writing at the Heriot-Watt College in Edinburgh. She later taught English as a means to finance her secretarial training. Spark is widely recognized as one of the most important Scottish writers of the 20th century.

In 1937, Muriel Camberg married Sydney Oswald Spark and they had a son, Samuel, known as Robin. For several years of her marriage Spark lived in Central Africa. Spark's marriage later ended in divorce.

During the World War II, Spark was conscripted to the Political Intelligence Department of the British Foreign Office where she worked as a propagandist for the war effort. After the war she lived in London, where she began her literary career. She became General Secretary of The Poetry society, edited The Poetry Review from 1947 to 1949 and wrote studies of Mary Shelley, John Masefield and the Bronte sisters. In 1952 she published her first book of poetry, a collection The Fanfarlo and Other Verse but it was her winning of the Observer prize for short fiction that finally inspired her to write fiction full-time.

Her first published novel, The Comforters (1957), was written three years after Spark converted to Roman Catholicism and the novel was inspired by her studies on the Book of Job. Several critics agree that her religious conversion was the central event of her life. Spark herself said that her conversion to Catholicism ignited a creative spirit within her and that all her work has been infused with the spirituality and morality of her Catholic faith.  

The body of her work, unlocked from her innermost memories of experiences before and after her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1954, built a canon of short, sometimes macabre, usually darkly humorous novels that sought to pare away the absurdities of human behavior. Her works are not for the faint of heart!

With the success of her early novels, and in particular The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Spark was able to leave London and, in 1967, took up permanent residence in Tuscany. On a side note, Maggie Smith won an Academy Award for her performance as the title character in the 1969 film adaptation of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. The film is now considered a modern classic, although it was widely criticized in literary circles for being only very loosely based on the novel itself.

Over her long career Muriel Spark received countless literary tributes and honours. In 1971 she was awarded an honorary degree in literature from Strathclyde University and has been similarly honoured by the Universities of Aberdeen, St Andrews, Edinburgh, London, Oxford and The American University of Paris. Heriot-Watt, where she studied précis writing, accorded her an honorary doctorate in 1995. In 1993, Spark was made a Dame of the British Empire and a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres (France) and, in 1997, she received the David Cohen British Literature Prize for Lifetime Achievement.

Dame Muriel Spark died at her home in Tuscany in April, 2006. 


This short article has been adpated from the New York Times, the BBC and Wikipedia sources.

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