The Life and Times of Muriel Spark

“I am a hoarder of two things: documents and trusted friends”

“My childhood in Edinburgh, so far as my memory stretches back (to when I was three or four and on to my school-days ) occurs in bright flashes, illuminating every detail of the scene. It would falsify the situation to try to connect my earliest years in a single narrative. I was born in Edinburgh, at 160 Bruntsfield Place, the Morningside district, in 1918”.
(Curriculum Vitae 1993)

Muriel Spark was educated in Edinburgh at the city's James Gillespie's High School for Girls, where she thrived while studying English, French, Chemistry, Greek, Physics, Latin and Logic. She was known as the school's Poet and Dreamer. Her best friend was Frances Niven and together they buried their poems under a tree in the Botanical Gardens. Frances lived at that time in the house next to Robert Louis Stevenson's where they would play in his garden. Later in life Muriel was asked to dedicate the stone in Princes Street Gardens in memory of R.L.S. which was sculpted by Ian Hamilton Finlay.

She converted to Catholicism in 1954, and Britain's most renowned Catholic writers, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, gave her significant support and encouragement as she pursued her literary career. She began by writing critical biographies of 19th century authors including Emily Brontë, Mary Shelley and John Masefield. But it was not until 1957 when she published The Comforters, the first of the novels, that in a very short time she made her reputation.

“Laurence gave her a drink as strong as his own, which she didn’t object to on this occasion” - The Comforters

The 1962 publication of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie brought her to the attention of critics and fans. This was successfully staged both in London's West End and on Broadway in New York. Later a film, starring Maggie Smith for which she won an Oscar for the best actress in 1969, helped to continue the success of the writer and the book.

“Whatever possessed you?” said Miss Brodie in a very Scottish way, as if Sandy had given away a pound of marmalade to an English duke. - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

1962 The Italia Prize for the dramatic radio musical of The Ballad of Peckham Rye

1963 Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
1965 James Tait Black Memorial Prize - The Mandelbaum Gate
1969 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize - The Public Image
1978 Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
1981 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize - Loitering with Intent

“And so, having entered the fullness of my years, from there by the grace of God I go on my way rejoicing.” - Loitering with Intent

1992 Ingersoll Foundation T.S. Eliot Prize
1993 Dame Commander of the British Empire
1995 Hon. Doctor of the University of Heriot Watt
1995 Hon. Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
1996 Commandeur de l'’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
1997 David Cohen British Literature Prize

2001 Muriel Spark Society founded in Edinburgh
2004. Her last book The Finishing School became a best-seller when it was published in 2004

2005 Nomination “The Driver's Seat” for the Inaugural International Man Booker Prize

“You'’re not my type after all,” Lise says. “I thought you were, but I was away out.” - The Driver's Seat

2005 Honorary Citizen of Civitella in Val di Chiana, Italy

Honorary citizenship was presented by the Mayor of Civitella in Val di Chiana to Muriel Spark, who had lived nearby this medieval town for 30 years.

"She was a simple person, affectionate and considerate" - Civitella Mayor Massimiliano Dindalini 2007.

On 17th April 2007 Memorial Concert, Wigmore Hall, London
Having attended a memorial concert in New York for Blanche Knopf, Muriel'’s friend and publisher, Muriel thought a concert was a good idea and often talked of it. After her death in 2006, her friend Penelope Jardine fulfilled Muriel'’s wish and (with the help of Airdrie Armstrong Terenghi) arranged a memorial concert in April 2007 at the Wigmore Hall, London. The programme, which included Schubert’'s String Quartet in E flat major, D87, Mendelssohn'’s Concert Piece in F minor, op.113, for clarinet, piano and bassoon, Robert Schumann’'s Gesange der Fruhe, op.133, Mozart’'s Quintet in A major, KV581 for clarinet and strings, was performed by the Ruysdael Quartet and other young international musicians known and admired by Muriel.

Muriel Spark has been greatly praised by Scotland over the years. In 2004, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, she was awarded the first Enlightenment Award. In 1987, she received The Saltire Society and The Royal Bank of Scotland's Scottish Book of the Year award for "The Stories of Muriel Spark". She was given an engraved Silver Quaich from the City of Edinburgh by the Lord Provost in 2004. In October 2005, she was nominated one of the ten "Brightest Watts" by the University of Heriot Watt, Edinburgh. In 2012, she was nominated as one of the six finalists for "The Best of the Best" James Tait Black Memorial Prizes. She was also an early receiver in 1931 of the Sir Walter Scott prize for Poetry. "The transfiguration of the commonplace" has been inscribed on one of the paving stones of The Scottish Poetry Society in her honour.

In 2010“ The Driver'’s Seat ”was shortlisted for the lost Man Booker Prize of 1970. 

“I’'m a widow,” Lise says, “and an intellectual. I come from a family of intellectuals” - The Driver's Seat

1971 Hon. D. Litt. University of Strathclyde.
1989 Hon. D. Litt. University of Edinburgh.
1995 Hon. D. Litt. University of Aberdeen.
1995 Hon. D. Litt. University Heriot Watt.
1998 Hon. D. Litt. University of St. Andrews.
1999 Hon. D. Litt. University of Oxford.
2001 Hon. D. Litt. University of London.
2005 Hon. Doctor of Humane Letters from the American University of Paris.
The Scottish Arts Council founded an International Fellowship in the name of Muriel Spark in 2006 which was inaugurated by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood. Other Fellows have been David Malouf and the poet Anne Carson.

Dr Gavin Wallace, who is head of literature at The Scottish Arts Council, said Dame Muriel's influence had been enormous. (BBC Obituary)

"Her achievement and influence as Scotland's, if not the UK's, greatest novelist have been so vast and far-reaching that in an odd way she seemed to be an immutable part of the cultural landscape”"