SPARK, Muriel

(1918 - 2006)

Dame Muriel Spark was born in 1918 in Edinburgh, to Bernard Camberg, a Jewish engineer, and his Christian wife Sarah, who made their sitting room “a monument to religious eclecticism.” Spark was later to become a Roman Catholic under the sponsorship of Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene.

She was educated at Gillespie’s High School from the age of five and, from the age of eleven, was taught there by Miss Christina Kay, “that character in search of an author,” who would later be fictionalised as Miss Jean Brodie. Kay encouraged Spark’s poetic ability and in 1930 five of her poems were published in the school magazine with the preface “It is very seldom that we print more than one contribution from any one author, by the work of Muriel Camberg… is so much out of the ordinary that we feel it worth while to give the following five of her poems”. 

University being beyond her family’s means, Spark worked in a department store before leaving. She returned in 1944, and worked for the rest of the war in political intelligence for MI6.

After the war followed ten years of “shilling-meter life” in literary London, working variously as editor of Poetry Review, for the journal of the National Jewellery Association and as a literary critic, publishing works on Mary Shelley, John Masefield, Wordsworth and the Brontës.

In 1952 Fanfarlo, her first collection of poems, was published.  That year she met the novelist Tony Strachan, who encouraged her to write her first novel, The Comforters, and who helped find a publisher in Macmillan. It was published in 1957 and praised highly in review pages, most notably by Waugh and Greene.

Spark’s literary output was extraordinary, publishing seven novels, two collections of short stories and a play in the next six years. Macmillan, her publisher, struggled to keep up. As one novel was completed, a second was in proof with a third being launched. The Prime of Miss  Jean Brodie, published in 1961, confirmed her fame and was only the second occasion that The New Yorker dedicated almost an entire issue to a single work. She wrote twenty-two novels in total and was knighted in 1993.

Martin Stannard recalls in his biography that “with Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, Muriel Spark completed a grand triumvirate of Catholic-convert novelists. After Greene’s death in 1991, she was often described as ‘the greatest living British writer’, and both her predecessors were awed by her talent.”

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Books by this author

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

SPARK, Muriel


The French Window and the Small Telephone

SPARK, Muriel


Child of Light

SPARK, Muriel


The Girls of Slender Means

SPARK, Muriel


The Fanfarlo

SPARK, Muriel