Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Bits of Spark
Last night I took Martin Stannard's biography of Muriel up to bed with me and flipped randomly through episodes of her life...and death. Is it just me or does anyone else take a nosy little leap to the end of a biography to despair over the subject's demise? Oh this is a complex and fascinating woman to say the least. When she was nineteen she met thirty-two year-old Sydney Oswald Spark who was planning to emigrate to teach in Africa.
'Muriel was attracted to this exotic prospect and to his apparent lack of machismo. She had no intention of becoming a housewife. He promised servants to leave her free to concentrate on her poetry. Above all, she wanted to escape from Edinburgh and its claustrophobic social microcosm.'
After a year of 'chaste courting' they sailed aboard the Winchester Castle but all was not bliss. Muriel flirted with a young South African on the boat, things went far enough that his parents invited her to stay and marry the young man. I'm not sure what her intended knew, or thought, about all of this. Perhaps she should have entertained the idea. Her wedding night with 'Ossie' was horrible, she had no idea he became violent while he was drunk, he also had a revolver which he liked to fire off in the courtyard. Apparently Africa brought out a wee bit of machismo in the man. He also hid the fact that he had been seeing a psychiatrist before the marriage from Muriel. Two months into the marriage she discovered she was pregnant and things went from bad to worse.
I love having Spark's short story collection at hand as this paragraph has enticed me to begin reading A Member of the Family.
'There is a fragment of Muriel's psyche in both characters: the tough and skeptical woman and the sociable 'girl'...who loved loved her accessories and delighted paralysing people with charm. Indeed, after that Murray interview, Muriel decided to rejuvenate herself. Photographs of her over the next decade appear to reveal her steadily increasing youth. Unlike Trudy, however, she did not do this to catch men but to maintain her independence, to escape the judgemental eye, and for the sheer pleasure of perfect form. It was a magnificent mask, a game, a defence. It was fun. It was her public image. If language was power, so too was beauty. As the artist at home she would slop about in jumpers. When she left the safety of Mrs Lazzari's house or invited guests to it, she dressed to kill.'
I have so much admiration for people who come from humble beginnings but go on to achieve great things or wade through insurmountable odds to emerge at the top of their desired field. Muriel Spark had incredible drive but paid heavily along the way it seems and there is still so much of her biography to discover and be fascinated by. Has this reading week spurned you on to learn more about Muriel Spark's life or writing?