The magic of Muriel Spark

01 February 2018

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1st February 2018 marks the centenary of the birth of classic Scottish author, Muriel Spark. Here Harriet Sanders tells the story of how Muriel came to Macmillan.

What’s every aspiring writer’s dream? Surely it’s to be asked to write a novel by a prestigious editor from an important Publishing Company.

Well that’s exactly what happened to Muriel Spark, who in the 1950’s was an impoverished short story writer. Recognising her talent, Macmillan Publishers persuaded her to quit her short stories in favour of novel writing. They published her first novel, The Comforters, to great critical acclaim in 1957.  

From then on her success grew and grew with a succession of novels which were short, funny, acerbic and impeccably crafted such as The Ballad of Peckham Rye and The Girls of Slender Means, both of which I particularly recommend – here are the covers of the first editions published in 1960 and 1963.

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Her most famous and bestselling novel is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie which is published as part of the Macmillan Collector’s Library.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Miss Jean Brodie is a teacher at a conventional Edinburgh girl’s school reminiscent of Spark’s own childhood and a woman ‘in her prime’. Not one to stick to the curriculum, her concern is that her girls become ‘la crème de la crème’ and a small group of them initially fall under her spell. The novel is set in the 1930’s but was published in 1961, at the start of a decade of rebellion and social change.  And that’s what Miss Jean Brodie is all about – she teaches (and I use that term loosely) what she likes, she has affairs, she travels abroad alone and she’s a fan of Mussolini.  Her story becomes darker and darker and both her girls, as they grow up through the school and beyond, and we who read the novel, begin to question her true nature. Spark’s prose is precise but at the same time makes us ask myriad questions.  It’s also incredibly funny and cuts to the quick.  In short, her writing skill is dazzling.  

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of her birth and is the perfect opportunity to discover or to revisit one of the most talented and original women writers of the 20th century.