Spark, Muriel 1918-2006

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SPARK, Muriel 1918-2006
(Muriel Sarah Spark)


See index for CA sketch: Born February 1, 1918, in Edinburgh, Scotland; died April 14, 2006, in Florence, Italy. Author. An award-winning author, Spark was known for her alternatingly comic and grim novels, such as Momento Mori (1959) and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961). Marrying at the young age of nineteen, she had an unhappy marriage with a psychologically unstable man who took her to what is now Zimbabwe, where he had a teaching position. The marriage ended in divorce a few years later, but Spark could not leave Africa. World War II was in full force, and transportation back to England was difficult to find. She eventually boarded a troop transport in 1944. She found work at the Foreign Office for a year, and then at a jewelry trade art magazine called Argentor. Then, from 1947 to 1949, she served as general secretary of the Poetry Society and edited their Poetry Review. The members of the society, however, disagreed with her editorial decisions, especially her idea of paying for worthy submissions while refusing money from poets who wished to have their work printed. Fired from the job, she was an assistant at European Affairs for a year and founded a literary magazine, Forum. When that failed, she became a part-time editor for the publishing house Peter Owen Ltd. By the early 1950s, Spark was publishing her own work, including studies of the Brontës, John Masefield, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, edited poetry collections and correspondence, and her first poetry book, The Fanfarlo and Other Verse (1952). With The Comforters (1957) she entered the world of novels and short fiction for which she would be best known. The 1959 novel Memento Mori firmly established her style in which grim subjects such as death mix with sporadic bursts of hilarity and a narrative style that many have considered aloof. Many successes would follow. Her radio adaptation of her novel The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960) won a Prix Italia, and 1965's The Mandelbaum Gate earned the author a prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1962) found praise both as a novel and as a 1964 play adaptation starring Vanessa Redgrave. Named to the Order of the British Empire in 1967 for her early accomplishments, Spark would later be named Dame of the British Empire in 1993 and Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in 1996. She won numerous other prizes, too, including the Scottish Book of the Year for The Stories of Muriel Spark (1985), a Bram Stoker Award in 1988 for Mary Shelley, the 1997 David Cohen Literature Prize for lifetime achievement, and a PEN International Gold Pen Award in 1998. Though her most recognized books date back to the 1960s, she continued a prolific career into the twenty-first century. Among her final publications were All the Stories of Muriel Spark (2001) and the novel The Finishing School (2004).



Spark, Muriel, Curriculum Vitae: An Autobiography, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.


New York Times, April 16, 2006, p. A32.