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Muriel Spark

The Biography

Martin Stannard (Author, University of Leicester)

Overview | Inside the Book
 

The compelling first biography of a twentieth-century literary enigma.

Born in 1918 into a working-class Edinburgh family, Muriel Spark became the epitome of literary chic and one of the great writers of the twentieth century. Her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, recorded her early years but politely blurred her darker moments: troubled relations with her family, a terrifying period of hallucinations, and disastrous affairs with the men she loved. At the age of nineteen, Spark left Scotland to get married in southern Rhodesia, only to divorce and escape back to Britain in 1944. Her son returned in 1945 and was brought up by Spark’s parents while she established herself as a poet and critic in London. After converting to Catholicism in 1954, she began writing novels that propelled her into the literary stratosphere. These came to include Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, and A Far Cry from Kensington.

With The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), later adapted into a successful play and film, Spark became an international celebrity and began to live half her life in New York City. John Updike, Tennessee Williams, Evelyn Waugh, and Graham Greene applauded her work. She had an office at The New Yorker and became friends with Shirley Hazzard and W. H. Auden. Spark ultimately settled in Italy, where for more than thirty years—until her death in 2006—she shared a house with the artist Penelope Jardine.

Spark gave Martin Stannard full access to her papers. He interviewed her many times as well as her colleagues, friends, and family members. The result is an indelible portrait of one of the most significant and emotionally complicated writers of the twentieth century. Stannard presents Spark as a woman of strong feeling, sharp wit, and unabashed ambition, determined to devote her life to her art. Muriel Spark promises to become the definitive biography of a literary icon.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • April 2010
  • ISBN 978-0-393-05174-2
  • 6.6 × 9.6 in / 656 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide, excluding Canada, the British Commonwealth and the European Union.

Endorsements & Reviews

“Starred Review. Stannard has dug deeply, and with keen and sympathetic insight. His prose is graceful and assured, his literary judgments discerning, and his biography is as definitive as we can expect to find.” — Publishers Weekly

“[Stannard’s] magnanimity as a biographer allows [Spark] all her apparent contradictions, while his critical attentions do just what a literary biography should do: make the reader hungry to explore her works.” — Frances Taliaferro, Wall Street Journal

“Will undoubtedly become the standard biography of a writer with perhaps the most distinctive voice . . . in postwar British fiction.” — The Observer

“Martin Stannard’s biography of Muriel Spark—dark queen of post-war British fiction and, for me at least, one of the great writers of all time—is as astonishing as his subject. In his chronicle of her rich, adverse, and inexplicable life and work he has, like a brilliant lepidopterist, managed to catch her and pin her down while preserving her elusive genius as an artist and a woman in the 20th century.” — Jenny McPhee, author of The Center of Things

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