Writing with intent

Hosmer, Robert E. Jr.

WRITING WITH INTENT THE ARTISTRY OF MURIEL SPARK ROBERT E. HOSMER, JR. In Muriel Spark's fifth nov*el, The Bachelors (1960), Ronald Bridges, an epileptic graphologist, announces, "To me, being...

...Harvey's conversion is perhaps even more profound than a change in religious affiliation, for he has turned away from the intellect am...
...a certain uneasiness with form, acknowledged by her with regard to The Comforters and The Mandelbaum Gate, has yielded in the last half dozen works to a sophisticated, assured stylistic fluency which integrates the religious content of the early first eight novels with the stylistic experimentation of the middle four...
...One of Spark's most overtly Catholic novels, Memento is really a meditation on the first of the four last things in the form of a medieval mystery play-Jean Taylor is the perceiving consciousness who, at a moment, of grace, identifies the caller, though she has never received a call herself...
...She has aligned herself not with a particular character but with the great religious structures of Venice, monuments not of unaging intellect but of transcendent and enduring faith...
...A number of critics have seen Spark's next H two novels, The Takeover and Territorial EL Rights, as exclusively secular concerns, an KKKL unoriginal charge no more valid here than Km A when it was applied to earlier works...
...She is neither polemicist nor propagandist nor homilist...
...you believe something the way you say that's your mother, or that's your sister...
...As in so many of Spark's novels, the last paragraph is vital to creating meaning for the text...
...The conflict pits Nancy Hawkins, a young war widow in the publishing trade, against Hector Bartlett, a hack writer of extraordinary pretensions and execrable prose style...
...The author's long view puts the novel's events in perspective, affirms the existence of transcendent power and goodness, and infuses with hope what might otherwise be a gloomy novel...
...In turn, it is twice reinforced before the end of the paragraph: "eternal life untraceable and persistent" and "even the lizard...
...The Public Image reads like a fable...
...unlike the Abbess Alexandra, Harvey has profited from the experience of withdrawal from the world, not so much from his own efforts as from an unexpected grace that touches suffering with insight...
...It's all a matter of choice and perspective, and Spark invites the discerning reader to share her perspective, to consider the possibilities: angel or devil...
...In creating ghastly parodies of nouveau roman...
...The outward conversion that took place before this novel began finds its necessary complement in this inward conversion, and The Comforters ends with Caroline's laughter echoing throughout a succinct parable of possibility...
...she has "elected herself to grace...
...Like Sandy Stranger, Nicholas Farringdon has received the gift of grace and been led not only to conversion but also to the professed religious life: he becomes a Jesuit missionary priest in Haiti, eventually dying a martyr's death...
...In the end, he slithers off, first to Africa, then to a monastery, before becoming a very successful novelist...
...And Spark's narrative voice delivers a final line conveying the groom's vision of "the Rye for an instant looking like a cloud of green and gold, the people seeming to ride upon it, as you might say there was another world than this...
...The Hothouse by the East River is a surreal tale told about Elsa, a woman whose shadow falls the wrong way, and her husband, Paul...
...The "creeping vision of evil" that Sandy discerns in Miss Brodie brings her to turn on her teacher, thwart her plans, and eventually to convert...
...Lise's willful pursuit of her own end shreds the "doctrine" of predestination...
...In some ways the novel stands in sharp contrast to its predecessors: there are no Catholics to speak of, unless one counts Nelly Mahone, a lapsed Catholic, and perhaps Dougal, who is never described as one, but does become a Franciscan novice for a period...
...Spark's latest three novels-Loitering with Intent, The Only Problem, and A Far Cry from Kensington-form a unit: all concern themselves with the maturing of a religious person who is also a writer...
...The paragraph continues with a precise description of that life until this clause occurs: "while the whole of eternal life carried on regardless...
...Putnam, $5.95 The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie...
...Putnam, $5.95 . The Only fVolOem, Putnam, $7.95 A Far Cry front Kensington, ttougkton M#w, $17,95 ' Tempest" ("our revels now are ended") establish a contrast condemning this woman's perverted use of time and isolation from the world (Velma B. Richmond), while its beautifully wrought imagery crafted from traditional images of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the poetry of Thomas Traherne posit a world other than that consumed by grubby convent politics...
...Then she began to read Cardinal Newman...
...Born in 1918 in Edinburgh to a Jewish father and a Presbyterian mother, Muriel Sarah Camberg was educated privately...
...The novel's very last paragraph has her kicking a stray football "with a chance grace," landing it in a "small boy's waiting hands: the boy grinned...
...Hogg's scornful denunciation, "You are full of sin...
...Hearing that she needed a patron, Graham Greene cabled: "I'd like to apply for the job...
...Robinson was followed by the estimable Memento Mori, a novel in which a group of English geriatrics, linked in various ways years previous but eventually separated, are brought into renewed contact by a series of puzzling telephone calls...
...While Ronald's fits bring true conversion, Patrick's seances provide him with motive, opportunity, and knowledge to set in motion diabolical schemes of murder, larceny, and blackmail...
...unlike her, Fleur does not convert to Roman Catholicism-she is already a practicing Catholic-but rather converts inwardly to a more charitable attitude, opening herself by deliberate choice to receive unmerited grace, should it come her way...
...One particular girl, Sandy Stranger, is the perceiving con-sciousness-of this novel...
...During the postwar period she wrote and published a good deal of poetry and, though she won the Observer story contest in 1951 with her tale, "The Seraph and the Zambesi," she continued to think of herself as a poet...
...Marginal poverty, undernourishment, writer's block, and religious upheaval brought her to the edge of a breakdown...
...the Son of God became man by the power of the Spirit...
...The novel captures the frantic world of the Upper East Side of New York in the 1970s, a world where everyone's "into" analysis, disco parties, shopping at fashionable Madison Avenue boutiques, and avant-garde theater...
...having entered the fullness of my years, from there by the grace of God I go on my way rejoicing...
...Yet that is no reason for despair, for the commonplace can be transfigured, grace is a reality, evil can be put at the service of good, and hope endures for those with faith...
...at least one critic reads the novel's very last paragraph as an "endorsement" of the Abbess...
...The novel chills the reader...
...In these eighteen novels, Muriel Spark has deepened and enriched the spiritual dimensions of her fiction...
...Not to Disturb is a grisly, gothic tale of horror with insanity, murder, madness, blackmail, pornophilia, and "sex [that] is one remove from spontaneous combustion...
...This assertion of a different perspective from all those we have been party to in the novel, offers Spark's affirmation of a patient biblical integrity, even in the smallest matters, not just because such structures rise on foundations often crafted of small pieces but because the whole process, witnessed from another world, creates enduring monuments...
...Dougal is not Satan, for he does not introduce evil into the town of Peckham...
...A believer, perhaps even a Roman Catholic, Harvey seeks to reconcile the existence of a benevolent creator with the presence of unspeakable suffering...
...Every one of these novels manifests hope: Annabel's departure with her baby at the end of The Public Image: choice and the truth have made her free...
...never exactly a novelist in the tradition of the great Victorians, she nonetheless fleshes out plot, character, and setting with wit and elegance...
...human existence is everywhere a struggle in which human beings do have the powers of choice and free will...
...Spark herself has said that she became frightened of Lise...
...his fondness for the present tense), while creating fictions which are deeply consistent with her longstanding, unremitting Catholic concerns...
...Barbara Vaughan's quest to find an integrated identity is simultaneously a pilgrimage toward an earthly city located in the midst of a Middle East rent by strife and heated by the Eichmann trial (it is 1961), and toward a city which lies elsewhere...
...Viking, $8.95 Territorial Rights, Putnam, $6.95 Loitering with Intent...
...Fifth, conversion to Roman Catholicism was the watershed experience of Muriel Spark's life, simultaneously establishing her identity as a person and releasing her writing voice...
...the natural and the supernatural mingle in a chiaroscuro realm...
...Of course, her own narcissistic personality is central to the mythology she spins as she gathers her "set...
...In the process of refining her artistry, Spark has offered stunning meditations on identity, predestination, time and eternity, and purgatory...
...it simply is," he has stated...
...At the center of the former is Hubert Malindaine, who claims direct descent from the goddess Diana and the Emperor Caligula...
...At the novel's climax, a carefully choreographed cult observance in a garden at Nemi, presided over by Hubert as high priest, is disrupted by two women: Pauline Thin, a Roman Catholic, who arrests the congregation's attention by quoting Saint Paul, then reading the account of the silversmiths' riot at Ephesus from Acts...
...Concurrently, Spark has developed a new relationship with her readers...
...His is an antiseptically neutral position in moral terms...
...In this novel of decided autobioJKIGKS Sit tHIS SSCTIOil: The Comforters...
...The plot is so entangled that "it's a knot not meant to be untied...
...rather, she explains, her conversion had "a very, very releasing effect" which "coincided" with her finding her "writing voice...
...We have asked our essayists to give an overview of the author's works, showing our readers where and how this writer locates the central human drama,, the big questions, the religious crisis of our time...
...They are not games with obscure clues or meanings, but exercises in the operation of cognitive intelligence...
...The "transfiguration of the commonplace" has operated in Spark's fiction from the beginning...
...Viking, $5.95 graphical import for Spark (in addition to her conversion and artistic calling, Caroline is part Jewish), Caroline achieves a personal integrity, rejecting the evils embodied in the self-righteous Georgina Hogg, the detached contemplation of Edwin Manders, and the misguided charity of Helena Manders as well as the diabolism, hedonism, and nihilism displayed by other characters...
...chastened and more deeply spiritual, the perpetually interrogative Harvey, like Barbara Vaughan in The Mandelbaum Gate, has realized that "questions were things that sufficed in their still beauty, answering themselves...
...Often grouped with Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, she writes fiction that diverges from theirs more often than it coincides...
...in late 1953 she became an Anglican...
...had never been startled by the shadow or motion of that eternal life which remained, past all accounting, while Clara and Agatha chattered on...
...It is the story of Annabel Christopher, a very limited actress, who, under the tutelage of an Italian director, learns to play herself to a "t...
...Not surprisingly, Mrs...
...Robbe-Grillet's aesthetic can be summarized as an anti-realist, anti-romantic, anti-existentialist dogma grounded in the principle that literature is a search for an unknown, proceeding by means of rigorously objective description...
...Only one girl, Joanna Childe, the virtuous, charitable daughter of an Anglican rector, gets caught half-way out and perishes as the building explodes...
...belief or unbelief...
...This is a novel from the pen of an assured and detached narrative artist who subverts traditional strategies, thereby drawing the reader away from the question of what happened, to why and how it happened...
...Why does the thought disturb her so...
...Here among women ostensibly dedicated to the service of others, it generates a dangerous mythology of narcissism...
...The Bachelors is a stunning technical accomplishment, contrasting true and false belief created by the use of true and false centers of consciousness.' Muriel Spark's preoccupation with manipula-JJ tion and the themes of good and evil, particu-B larly with the presence of evil as a paradox i-H H cal moment of grace for conversion, finds H IH full expression in her next two novels, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Girls of Slender Means (1963...
...Yet this never happens without directed signs from the author, whom Frank Kermode has described as "an unremittingly Catholic novelist committed to immutable truths...
...It's something I recognized which is...
...she learns to assume a more charitable role in a world of others, even where some are physically repulsive or morally repugnant...
...After the dissolution of the marriage, Mrs...
...Her mind teemed with disorderly ideas, more frantic thought than she had ever experienced...
...Spark turns to the problem of suffering...
...Indeed, that aversion is often reflected in herfiction-in the attitude of Ronald Bridges in The Bachelors ("As a Catholic I loathe all other Catholics"), in the presentation of Catholic characters like Georgina Hogg in The Comforters ("a psychological thug," given to accosting others with the greeting, "You are full of sin...
...An extraordinary and unorthodox teacher at Edinburgh's Mar-cia Blaine School for Girls in the 1930s, Jean Brodie manipulates her students, using them to create a vicarious life for herself...
...Yet just how is Muriel Spark a "Catholic writer...
...his death and resurrection have brought salvation for all humankind...
...These first eight novels display remarkable similarities of content, but not strict uniformity...
...Taylor's detached perspective is both physical (she is an elderly arthritic confined to a nursing home) and spiritual...
...Auberon Waugh's reaction to Not to Disturb is typical: "I have to admit that I could not make head or tail of her latest novel...
...In his embrace of matter, all human history was changed, indeed transformed, becoming a scheme of salvation history with a consequent reorganization ofjime...
...Such an exercise must begin with a discussion of Spark's background and conversion...
...In The Comforters, Caroline Rose struggles to integrate the demands of her newly-found Roman Catholic faith within the context of her own life as a fledgling novelist...
...the very last graceful line of Not to Disturb, "While outside the house the sunlight is laughing on the walls," posits a world other than pandemonium in the Villa...
...Noteworthy here is Spark's portrayal of the agnostic Mortimer, who advocates a daily remembrance of the reality of Death, a nightly examination of the day's events from a moral perspective, something akin to the Catholic practice of examination of conscience...
...That mythology takes its inspiration, substance, and direction from the novelist's "abounding faith...
...They're as happy as larks in the sky...
...and the distinctly working-class ethos of this novel is a departure as well...
...Perhaps because the battle for her soul, like that for all souls, continues in a fallen world...
...Nicholas, a fledgling poet in wartime London, makes the acquaintance of a number of young women living at the May of Teck Club, a residence "for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the Age of Thirty Years...
...my religion in fact went beyond those Hail Marys which had become a superstition to me...
...In Muriel Spark's fifth nov*el, The Bachelors (1960), Ronald Bridges, an epileptic graphologist, announces, "To me, being Catholic is part of my human existence...
...Particularly in the first two, Mrs...
...though convinced that "it was a lot of rubbish," she reflects, "But was it any more mad than my compulsive Hail Marys at 12 o'clock noon...
...time and again she has declared, with force and enthusiasm, the strength of her religious convictions, and her assent to "absolute truth, in which I believe things which are difficult to believe, but I believe them because they are absolute...
...she thinks she is Providence...
...Every one of Spark's novels is concerned, in one way or another, to document this struggle...
...As Velma B. Richmond has noted, the narrative of two servants' excursion to market contains an episode which begins thus: "They stood talking in the sunny main street of Nemi while life bustled by them...
...In The Driver's Seat, Lise, a quite unremarkable young woman, "neither good-looking nor bad-looking," avidly pursues her own murder at the hands of a sex maniac...
...Though every novel Spark has written has dealt with suffering, and in a particular way when the novel captures the experience of conversion, none until The Only Problem has drawn in such a straightforward manner on Job...
...Flashes of Sister Helena clutching the grille punctuate and close the novel, providing its most enigmatic element: asked about influences on her during earlier years, she responds, "There was a Miss Jean Brodie in her prime...
...Consistent concerns and patterns emerge with sufficient clarity and forceful regularity so that it is possible to distinguish her eighteen novels as vigorous inquiries into the nature and value of the good, the possibilities of belief, and the development of maturing religious consciousness...
...Years later one of the girls remarks about a note found in the manuscript of Nicholas's poems to the effect that "a vision of evil may be as effective to conversion as a vision of good...
...Spark's emotional difficulties were not so easily overcome, however...
...Concomitant advances in matters technical distinguish her fiction at this stage...
...David Lodge's description of Sandy Stranger in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as the novel's "perceiving consciousness" is perhaps the best way to identify that character with whom Spark aligns herself...
...Her first novel, The Comforters, was inspired by it, but failed to deal with the issue head-on...
...In the end Caroline, who accepts the reality of the supernatural voices writing her novel for her, overcomes her distaste for the foul Hogg...
...Interviewed in 1968 by Israel Shenker, Mrs...
...Though a lesser achievement in the canon of Spark's works (she has said she "wrote a novel to work out the technique first, to sort of make it all right with myself to write a novel at all"), The Comforters sets out her enduring concerns...
...Nonetheless, these novels which mirror contemporary experience and reflect the human situation in a world that has fallen into the absurd, are parables with all-but-hidden religious meanings...
...The slender Selina escapes, then returns, not to rescue someone else but to save a Schiaparelli dress she delights in wearing...
...In the end she is a seriously religious woman, at home in the world, living according to the spirit, not the letter, of the law...
...In terms of explicitly religious content, this is probably the richest of Spark's novels...
...Putnam, $5.95 The Mandelbaum Gale...
...her noticeable departure, the fracture of a traditional chronology with flashes, forward and backward, sharpens the narrative focus elsewhere and replicates a divine timelessness, for what is time but a human way of attempting to order the chaos of experience...
...in the words of one character, "the really professional evildoers love it...
...I decided then and there to give up those Hail Marys...
...and Nancy Cowan, an Anglican, who joins in Pauline's condemnation of the cult of Diana and Hubert...
...The Ballad of Peckham Rye presents a complementary reality: the diabolical in the world...
...6.95 Robinson, Avon...
...Things have fallen to below canal level in this novel: guilt is largely unknown, the wicked prosper deliciously...
...Though she found that she could write after her conversion because she "began to see life as a whole rather than as a series of disconnected happenings," the experience did not put an end to her suffering...
...she later saw "this real emotional suffering" as "all part oftheconversion...
...To call it, as Ruth Whittaker has, "a timeless parable about power and corruption," is accurate but inadequate, for it is more...
...This time-shattering event has certain consequences...
...deeply moved by his thought and elegantly persuasive style, Spark nonetheless could not follow Newman into the Roman church immediately: her aversion to Catholics held her back (as she told one interv ie wer, "Good God, I used to think, if I become Catholic, will I grow like them...
...a man of "abounding faith," he has accepted the limitations of his creaturehood, acknowledged that suffering is a mystery, and learned that while suffering and art can illuminate Job (and life), that biblical text will never come clear because it is a poem, not a scholastic argument...
...becoming a Catholic was not an intellectual decision but "a total feeling," for "belief is not intellectual...
...Spurred by this and by an English priest's remarks on faith in a sermon that begins in cliches and ends with insight, this young woman "with the beautiful and dangerous-gift of faith which, by definition of the Scriptures, is the sum of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen," attains a mature religious vision, finally recognizing that "questions were things that sufficed in their still beauty, answering themselves," and that, "either the whole of life is unified under God or everything falls apart...
...Spark in 1938 and take up residence in Rhodesia...
...Conversion is also central to Spark's next novel, The Mandelbaum Gate (1965), with Barbara Vaughan, the daughter of a Jewish mother and Protestant father, on pilgrimage in the Holy Land...
...When a number of the girls are trapped on the club's third floor during a bombing raid, the only escape route lies through a narrow window leading to the roof...
...Only three-quarters of the way through the novel does the reader learn that these suffering, confused souls died thirty years previous when their railway carriage was hit by aGerman bombing raid on England...
...The Takeover is a satire against materialism, church corruption, worldly Jesuits, the Children of God, Roman Catholic charismatics, and much more, but it would be a mistake to consider its possibilities exhausted by satire...
...Greene's allowance continued for eighteen months, until the success of her first novel, The Comforters (1957), enabled her to write, "I'm, O.K...
...For Spark the novelist has social responsibility: to describe the contemporary world with such precision-the good, the bad, the neutral-in order to disclose the radical insufficiency of a life, of any life, lived without genuine spiritual awareness...
...actually, its echoes of Prosper's conclusion to the masque within "The BOOKS IN THIS SECTION: The Sbbess ©I Crewe, Putnam, $6.95 The Takeover...
...Newman's insistence on the absolute necessity that charity characterize our dealings with all has been taken to heart...
...She has experimented with forms and strategies of fiction, seeking (and often finding) the means by which to express her very particular view of the world...
...In the course of the novel Barbara achieves a sense of her own identity, forging an integrated self from the disparate materials of her background...
...She mimics the divine, expecting that her word will order chaos and establish hierarchies...
...at her reappearance with the dress, Nicholas "involuntarily signed himself with the cross...
...Nearly all the recipients attempt to find a "natural" explanation for the call, but several understand it quite otherwise: Charmian Colston and her former companion, Jean Taylor, both Roman Catholic converts, and Henry Mortimer, a retired police inspector and agnostic, all identify the caller as Death and accept the reality of the supernatural within the natural world...
...Putnam...
...Spark's subtitle, "A Modern Morality Tale," gives a clear indication of her intent: The Abbess of Crewe is a pointed exemplum on perhaps the "deadliest" of the seven deadly sins: pride...
...Neither Charmian nor Jean Taylor is a wholly admirable character, but, despite lapses and falls, each has chosen the good...
...Spark has returned to matters that have concerned her from the start: the vocation of the believing artist in the modern world and the problem of reconciling the existence of God with the persistence of human suffering...
...Whatever it may or may not reflect about Spark herself, there is a noticeable evolution of maturing religious consciousness in her central characters...
...Like Jean Brodie and Patrick Seton, Abbess Alexandra is a grand manipulator...
...Second, Christ's embrace of matter in his own person and in his earthly activity established a sacramental economy, a system whereby ordinary elements, transfigured by divine power, become not only signs but substance of another, transcendent reality...
...Here, as in other novels, evil effects a conversion, for Nancy's encounter with radionics causes her to re-examine her religious practices...
...Evil proliferates in vile persons and outrageous acts (murder, mindless violence, forgery, fraud, blackmail...
...at one point she considers that "the demands of the Christian religion are exorbitant, they are outrageous...
...Sustained by her own mythology, drawn from an abounding faith in those absolute truths in which she believes absolutely, Muriel Spark goes on her way, rejoicing...
...Her narrative strategies-the construction of a God-like, detached narrator, her departure from traditional chronology to emphasize the "eternal now," her fondness for parable, allegory, and the transfiguring power of the symbolic imagination, the triumphantly comic integrity of her fictional oeuvre-often dazzling feats in themselves, have been put at the service of a greater vision, what one character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie perceives as "a sense of the hidden possibilities in all things...
...Like Sandy Stranger, she discerns a creeping vision of evil in the person of the archmanipulator...
...Hope, Even at the End-Time Muriel Spark's next four novels are not, as HH some have suggested, "secular" enterprises...
...These episodes let him know his strengths (analysis, definition, detachment) and his great weakness (a lack of charity...
...For her, though, subjectivity is not everything, unless subject merges into Subject...
...At the same time each is a rather savage satire directed not only at particular aspects of the contemporary world-the image-making industry, tourism, television journalism, psychiatry- but also, and more importantly, at the moral nihilism and functional absurdity that pervade the contemporary ethos...
...Whether it is the voices heard by Caroline Rose, the Roman Catholic convert struggling to become a novelist in The Comforters, or the anonymous telephone caller, Death, terrorizing geriatrics in Memento Mori, or Dou-gal-Douglas, the diabolical dancer in The Ballad ofPeckham Rye, or Jean Brodie, the archmanipulator with a hint of sulphur about her in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the interplay between the natural and the supernatural establishes the dynamics of daily existence in these fictional worlds...
...As her protagonists have evolved toward greater maturity and her own artistry has done likewise, Spark's awareness of her readers has taken account of their evolving maturity as she has abandoned overt religious concerns and explicit statements in favor of more subtly integrated spiritual dimensions to her fiction...
...Unable to take holy orders because of his illness, he accepts his epilepsy as his vocation, using his fits as opportunities to cultivate greater self-awareness...
...let those with ears listen...
...a writer who has entered the arena of existential combat and come away with some significant victories...
...He now speaks in measured, declarative tones, turning outward at the end, into the world of social responsibility...
...By novel's end, having suffered himself, he has ceased trying to find a rational solution...
...there are no converts here...
...The true novelist, one who understands the work as a continuous poem, is a mythmaker...
...The one good character, a meek, mild, and scorned wife who stays home in Birmingham tending her goldfish and reading dull fiction, waiting for her philandering husband to return from Venice, receives her reward: a stolen bracelet and her wayward husband back again...
...Like her creator, Nancy Hawkins accepts the absolute truths of doctrine, declaring, "I can't disbelieve...
...A mature woman, she lives in a self-centered world of adolescent romantic myth...
...I don't feel one way as a human being and another as a Catholic...
...It is the vision of that other world beyond, against which the chaos of quotidian experience is thrown, and against which it assumes proportion...
...In casting off pride and accepting the gruesome realities of pain and death she has opened herself to another reality: that infusion of grace which enables one to see aging as part of a fulfilling process that leads through death to eternal life...
...the tendency to equate matter with evil...
...written in 1953, Spark criticized "present-day Christian writing" for "a dualistic attitude toward matter and spirit...
...In the first place, Muriel Spark makes a sharp and necessary distinction between popular religion-("those terrible bleeding hearts, the saints, the pope, priests") and what she terms "the church as a repository of faith, which represents many of the truths we hold to be most important...
...Fleur Talbot matures as an artist and as a believer...
...Out of evil, good can emerge...
...Often taking his subject matter from newspapers, Robbe-Grillet describes personality and event with intense precision, from a very considerable distance...
...The Abbess of Crewe is a satire on church politics loosely based on the Watergate episode of our own national history...
...though she had "neveY known such mental activity," and though it caused her to "suffer a lot," the "new gift" of Catholicism enabled her to establish a creative order...
...Spark named five living novelists whose work she reads-Murdoch, Mailer, Malamud, Bellow, and Robbe-Grillet-with a particular emphasis on the last...
...This is more than a morality tale: it is simultaneously a parable of the deceptions of art and the evils of faith grounded in self, not Other, At,novel's end, Alexandra sails for Rome, summoned to explain herself...
...and in the portrait of Dottie, "the very pious, old-fashioned Catholic" in Loitering with Intent (1981) who enrolls others in "The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom" while filching their property...
...she thinks she is the God of Calvin, she sees the beginning and the end...
...Demonic, intelligence operates with startling efficacy in the absurd world of Territorial Rights, but the author, while detached and impersonal, has not failed to establish her customary perspective...
...in her conversion the spiritual and creative dimensions of existence were fused, but not without considerable cost...
...Each receives the same message, "Remember, you must die...
...They puzzle and perplex...
...Yet Cardinal Newman finally prevailed, prompting a conversion Spark has described as "really an instinctive rather than an intellectual experience...
...Spark's literary artistry gains in facility and assurance...
...As the reader follows her in the course of the novel, a pattern becomes clear: from Sandy's perspective, Miss Brodie is evil...
...Here, too, the vision of evil is catalytic: Barbara spends one day at Eichmann's trial, observing that the former SS colonel was answering "for an imperative deity named Bureau IV-B-4, of whom he was the High Priest," and concluding, "it was a highly religious trial...
...Third, human history, set within the context of a fallen world, is a battleground between the forces of good and evil for the control of souls...
...In the end she emerges as an integrated, functioning personality with a greater sense of charity, a sympathetic, if limited, artist...
...A staff of servants awaits the "predestined" murder of the Baron and Baroness Klopstock along with their lover, Victor, having previously arranged to sell the rights to the story to various media...
...He gave her a monthly stipend of 20 pounds on condition that they not meet and she not pray for him...
...like them she fosters a cult about herself...
...The perceiving consciousness of each of these novels blurs more than ever the distinction of past, present, and future so that all the novels are told according to Divine Saving Time, with death shaping the narrative focus to End Time...
...His staging of an embarrassing series of events and his own suicide, rather than ruining her, transforms her from a passive pawn victimized by image into a woman who spurns blackmail, takes her baby, and departs that "Motherland of Sensation," Italy, for a new life...
...Pl Overt religious concerns may have all but H H disappeared and experimentation with form H HH makes them more difficult exercises in meaning...
...her press agent creates both public and private images, not only for the actress but for her husband as well...
...The 1950s were times of financial and emotional struggle for Spark...
...The influence of Robbe-Grillet's fiction on Spark's four novels is quite remarkable: each is a parody of le nouveau roman...
...In Loitering with Intent, Fleur Talbot recounts the story of her nine-month stint working for Sir Quentin Oliver, an evil and deluded snob who has gathered a "spiritual circle," called the Autobiographical Association, about him...
...In The Girls of Slender Means Nicholas Farringdon, in an epiphany atop a burning building, has a searing vision of evil sufficient to move him toward conversion...
...Fourth, on an even more personal level, Spark's conversion meant discovering in those absolute truths "a norm from which one can depart," direction ("it's a matter of when you're at sea you like to have a compass so you can go on from there"), as well as a sense of perspective and proportion ("in the broad historical sense the church does teach you to see things in proportion...
...Chaos comes again to this villa on the shore of Lake Leman and the first lines of the novel, taken from The Duchess ofMalfi, have emblematic force and existential resonance throughout: "Their life, a general mist of error...
...in her hands it has become a metaphor for the ease with which it is possible to miss the eternal while being consumed by the materialism and monotony of the everyday...
...Harvey Gotham, a wealthy Canadian who has withdrawn to southern France to write a monograph on the Book of Job, is the novel's protagonist...
...he merely activates that potential inherent in some of its citizens...
...6S5 Memento Mori, Pimm, $S.9S The Bachelors, Putnam, $6.95 The Ballad of Peckham Rye...
...At the age of thirty-three and rather undecided about a number of matters (sexual preference, religion, suicide, pacifism), he embarks on an affair with the lovely Selina Redwood...
...This story of her lasting impact on her special girls, "the Brodie set," brought Spark fame and considerable wealth as the novel became a stage play and popular film...
...like the Abbess of Crewe, Malindaine has entered the realm of mythology, though he has not become an object of art exactly...
...Thus, because it is absolutely central to her life and art, Muriel Spark's conversion must be detailed with some precision, and while it is clearly impossible to document the disposition and movement of most souls with satisfying accuracy and amplitude, in this case the soul herself has provided a good deal of information, particularly in the record of an interview given in 1961 and later published as "My Conversion...
...In these four novels, Spark has pushed to the near limits of the surreal so that questions and themes-not plot, character, or setting-reverberate painfully...
...Her novels are certainly not primers for spiritual edification nor are they handbooks of instruction...
...In The Bachelors the battle is even more pitched with Ronald Bridges, an epileptic Catholic, paired off against Patrick Seton, a spiritualist medium of uncanny powers...
...Please ring me...
...Simultaneously and necessarily, such exercise reveals dimensions of the Roman Catholic novelist's bravura artistry...
...In these early novels it is a Roman Catholic, often a convert, who is the protagonist...
...Territorial Rights, set in Venice during the late 1970s, is a novel filled with evildoers: adulterers, liars, cheats, embezzlers, terrorists, blackmailers, drug dealers, and more...
...In her vile self-glorification and perversion of both the ends and means of professed religious life, she deserves Mrs...
...A convert to Roman Catholicism after she left school, Sandy became a cloistered nun, Sister Helena of the Transfiguration, who writes a best-selling treatise, "The Transfiguration of the Commonplace...
...In an article on Proust, Rdbsrt£bsmer'scnttcal essay on Muriel Spark is another in our series of articles on contemporary Catholic writers of fiction...
...The Ballad of Peckham Rye expresses Spark's belief that the diabolical is on the loose in the world...
...She has succeeded in solving what Frank Baldanza has called "the aesthetic problem of accommodating both the supernatural and the natural in her works...
...Perhaps because Sandy seeks the supreme confidence and self-defining authority Jean Brodie had, but cannot have since that authority belongs to God and the church...
...the world is neither significant nor absurd...
...Spark has again written a fiction with decided autobiographical resonance...
...Paradoxically, she discerned in Proust, whose "work is based on a pagan aesthetic...
...The inattentive reader might conclude that the Abbess has had her willful way, not only with her sisters but also with her creator...
...a writer who has paradoxically contracted the limits of her art and expanded the possibilities of her faith...
...But the greater sophistication of Spark's literary technique makes this a more difficult, indeed problematic, novel to consider...
...Her life of prayer, sacrament, meditation, and self-scrutiny constitutes a life well-lived, a death well-prepared for...
...Jean Brodie is a developed treatment of the "angel-devil" figure of Dougal Douglas, a dangerous and deluded woman, evil yet somehow innocent, caught up in the struggle between the forces of good and evil warring for control of human souls...
...She chooses carefully, everything from the clothes she wears to the place where she will be raped and bludgeoned so that what she has preordained will take place in the most grotesque, absurd, and violent terms...
...Though reared a Presbyterian, she has said that she "had no definite clear beliefs at all up to 1952...
...Concern for traditional fictive elements like plot, character, and setting are nullified...
...Wander and ruin he does, breaking up relationships, wreaking havoc, and indirectly causing at least one murder...
...And so...
...These two novels, rather longer than the previous five, represent a renewed narrative fluency and fullness for Spark, while continuing to call the reader into the fiction-making process...
...And as in the earlier novel, a pitched battle between the forces of good and evil (here the evil is radionics, a pseudoscience that uses a black box to affect people's lives, for good or ill) rages in post-World War II London...
...Unwilling to accept limitations and unable to locate herself within the dimension of sacred history, she declares, "we have entered the realm of mythology...
...Spark's following four novels published between 1968 and 1973-The Public Image, The Driver's Seat, Not to Disturb, and The Hothouse by the East River-demonstrate a technical indebtedness to Rbbbe-Grillet...
...this consistency is not repetition, however, but rather something akin to fugal variation on great themes...
...Their death, a hideous storm of terror...
...for, in her, spirit,and substance are indivisible...
...It is the End which gives meaning and coherence, not only in aesthetic terms, but also in theological terms...
...A young woman of "abounding faith," who writes poems and occasional articles for church newspapers, Fleur finds that her experiences editing and typing the memoirs of the association's members sharpen her perception of evil, confirm her vocation as an artist, and strengthen her religious faith...
...his cinematic structural and narrative devices...
...Wv ;- American Ubraty, $6.95 The Girls of Slender Means...
...Simultaneously, the arc of her novels reveals Spark as a progressively more accomplished literary artist...
...In these novels, as in all she has written, the context is the fallen world, a battleground in the struggle between the forces of good and evil...
...Excerpts from the autobiographies of Newman and Cellini are woven into the text of Loitering with Intent just as their very clear import is integrated within the personality of Fleur Talbot, who declares "how wonderful it feels to be a woman and an artist in the twentieth century...
...rather, he has woven a complex mythological web from filaments of pagan syncretism, solipsism, gross materialism, and blackmail...
...Absurdity has been exposed with obsessive exactitude to reveal the dynamics of the divine intelligence at work...
...Spark has co-opted a number of the techniques of Robbe-Grillet (what she has called "his obsession with exactitude...
...toward the heart as a guide for conduct...
...In her novels, presences have sometimes become generative absences, and the reader must assume greater responsibility for creating textual meanings...
...his commitment to distance and detachment...
...You can stop...
...She did not attend university but rather chose to marry S.O...
...Both The Takeover and Territorial Rights condemn false mythologies...
...in terms of autobiographical detail, it is one of the most resonant...
...These novels constitute what Malcolm Bradbury has termed "a distinct aesthetic phase," but they represent more than mere aesthetic advance...
...That knowledge challenges him to become more compassionate, to overcome his distaste for others, especially his coreligionists, and to become, unwittingly, an occasion of grace for others...
...The dilemma of unmerited suffering, particularly in its classic biblical expression in the Book of Job, has preoccupied Spark for many years...
...Bridges has a clear, if unusual, sense of his vocation...
...While The Takeover does indeed have two supporting characters who assert Christian norms in the midst of great license and corruption, and while all Spark's satiric arrows are shot from the bow of faith, another element of the text assumes an even greater role in the dynamics of the novel, reinforcing the author's perspective...
...Spark returned to England ROBERT E. HOSMER, JR., is Five-College Associate in the department of English at Mount Holyoke College, where he has taught courses in writing, Old English literature, and women writers...
...As in Loitering with Intent, a central Catholic character achieves status as a mature believer and artist...
...a sacramental view of life which is nothing more than a balanced regard for matter and spirit...
...When not out shopping or visiting with bizarre friends, Elsa sits and stares at the East River, smiling with an air of expectancy...
...She tried, unsuccessfully, to write her novel of Job more than once...
...Each is carefully set within the context of a fallen world, precisely observed and documented: the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy, the beautiful and the repulsive, the angelic and the vile swim in the same stream...
...with her son and served in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office before becoming editor of the Poetry Review (1947-1949...
...They simultaneously exhibit a theological sophistication which can only be appreciated if Spark's readers will become what she clearly intends them to be: cooperating, perceiving consciousnesses capable of grasping significant theological insight by shucking the husks of quotidian experience and generating meanings for themselves...
...The natural ease with which Spark has integrated the divine dimension within an otherwise unimportant narrative episode is more than a dexterous weaving of the natural and supernatural...
...Spark delineates the process as Fleur writes her first novel, offering asides on character, motives, overheard remarks, and the novelist's vocation ("Without a mythology, a novel is nothing...
...Seton's seances, on the other hand, are sideshows staged for the manipulation of the innocent, guilty, and gullible...
...Previous articles in the series include Rosemary Booth on Mary Gordon (August 12,1988) and John B. Breslin, S.J., on Andre Dubus (December 2, 1988...
...Having clarified the vocation of the artist with a very Christian focus...
...The cornerstone doctrine of that repository is the Incarnation...
...Though Dougal dreams he is the Devil, when asked if this is so, he answers, "No, oh, no, I'm only supposed to be one of the wicked spirits that wanders the world for the ruin of souls...
...Spark's conversion did not cause her to become a novelist...
...These truths are the central informing ideas of Muriel Spark's fiction...
...Spark uses the motif of the pilgrimage in a medieval way, viewing the experience in both literal and figurative terms...
...In Robinson, January Marlow, stranded on an island after an airplane crash, struggles first for physical survival, then for a kind of spiritual survival...
...You know," she tells them, "I am become an object of art, the end of which is to give pleasure...
...In the tradition of Shakespearean comedy, this novel closes with a marriage, one that had been delayed by Dougal's interference: his machinations have had only temporary effects...
...In short, they effect fraudulent conversion...
...What does the Catholic sensibility of a Muriel Spark have to tell us about our common world, about the state of our souls...
...In addition, she has perceived "so many things in common and a kind of basic trust" between herself and her coreligionists that she now "would prefer to live with Catholics...
...In and of itself, it is a particular revelation, part of a scheme that began with creation, manifesting the participation of the divine within the context of these human constructs, "time" and "history": the supernatural is a participatory reality in the realm of the natural (an essential element of Spark's belief as well as her literary aesthetic...
...While she has never wavered in her essential convictions about the doctrines of her faith, she has had to struggle to accommodate spiritual vision and literary aesthetic...
...This is a writer who has confronted the great questions of existence and come away, if not with answers, then with considerable illumination...
...Her conversion was not, she claims, the inevitable result of study and reflection...
...Though he can, on occasion, work good, this "angel-devil" most often insinuates and manipulates toward evil ends...
...All seem to have mystified a good many readers and critics...
...here the movement is clearly outward and beyond, to "mosaics [that] stood with the same patience that has gone into these formations, piece by small piece...
...and Elsa's expectant smile as she gazes east, the iconographic direction of the Resurrection, is a sign that Purgatory by the East River is a liminal experience...
...A recent convert, she encounters the forces of lapsed belief, magic, superstition, primitive nihilism, and the occult...
...the workings of grace are indeed mysterious...
...The Eternal Mow In each of her last six novels Muriel Spark has reworked major ideas and concerns from her earlier work...
...No clearer statement of Muriel Spark's sense of herself could be located...
...In her most recent novel, A Far Cry from Kensington, Mrs...
...Thus, conversion, perception, and creativity are inextricably linked with suffering in the'mind of this artist...
...If in the process of that disclosure she is nKre subtle, even obscure, than before, it is not only because such obscurity may be a metaphor for the difficulty of discerning the true from the false in our world, but also because she, like Robbe-Grillet, invites the reader to participate in the process of creating meaning...
...it's a fact...

Vol. 116 • April 1989 • No. 8


 
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