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MURIEL SPARK




 

Many professions are associated with a particular stereo­type. The classic image of a writer, for instance, is of a slightly demented-looking person, locked in an attic, scribbling away furiously for days on end. Naturally, he has his favourite pen and notepaper, or a beat-up old typewriter, without which he could not produce a readable word.

Nowadays we know that such images bear little resem­blance to reality. But are they completely false? In the case of at least one writer it would seem not. Dame Muriel Spark, who is 80 this month, in many ways resembles this stereotypical "writ­er". She is certainly not demented, and she doesn't work in an attic. But she is rather neurotic about the tools of her trade.

She insists on writing with a certain type of pen in a certain type of notebook, which she buys from a certain stationer in Edinburgh called James Thin, in fact, so superstitious is she

 

 

that, if someone uses one of her pens by accident, she im­mediately throws it away.

Aswell as her "fetish" about writing materials, Muriel Spark shares one other characteristic with the stereotypical "writer" — her work is the most important thing in her life. It has stopped her from remarrying; cost her old friends and made her new ones; and driven her from London to New York, to Rome. To­day, she lives in the Italian province of Tuscany with a friend.

Dame Muriel discovered her gift for writing at school in the Scottish .capital, Edinburgh. "It was a very progressive school," she recalls. "There was complete racial [and] religious tolerance."

Last year, she acknowledged the part the school had played in shaping her career by giving it a donation of £10,000. The money was part of the David Cohen British Literature Prize, one of Britain's most prestigious literary awards. Dame Muriel received the award for a lifetime's writing achievement, which really began with her most famous novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It was the story of a teacher who encouraged her girls to believe they were the "creme de la creme". Miss Jean Brodie was based on a teacher who had helped Muriel Spark realise her talent.



Much of Dame Muriel's writing has been informed by her personal experiences. Catholicism, for instance, has always been a recurring theme in her books — she converted in 1954. Another novel, Loitering with Intent (1981), is set in London just after World War II, when she herself came to live in the capital.

How much her writing has been influenced by one part of her life is more difficult to assess. In 1937, at the age of 19, she travelled to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she married a teacher called Sydney Oswald Spark. The couple had a son, Robin, but the marriage didn't last. In 1944, after spending some time in South Africa, she returned to Britain, and got a job with the Foreign Office in London.

Her first novel The Comforters (1957) was written with the help of the writer, Graham Greene. He didn't help with the writing, but instead gave her £20 a month to support herself while she wrote it. His only conditions were that she shouldn't meet him or pray for him. Before The Comforters she had con­centrated on poems and short stories. Once it was published, she turned her attentions to novels, publishing one a year for



 

the next six years. Real success came with The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was published in 1961, and made into a film. By this time she was financially secure and world famous.

(from BBC English, February 1998)

 

1. As you read the text:

 

a) Look for the answers to these questions:

 

1. What profession stereotypes are there? What is a stereo­typical "student"? "lecturer"? "poet"? 2. Is the "classic image of a writer" completely false? Be specific. 3. Would you agree that artistic people are often superstitious? 4. Who is given the title of "Dame" in Britain? 5. What suggests that Dame Muriel Spark is rather neurotic about the tools of her trade? 6. What part did the school play in shaping her career? 7. How did Gra­ham Green help the young writer? 8.What are the scanty bio­graphical details given in the profile?

 

b) Find in the text the facts to illustrate the following:

 

1. For Muriel Spark writing is the most important thing in her life. 2. Dame Muriel Spark is a stereotypical writer. 3. "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is a great novel.

 


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