She was educated at James Gillespie’s High School for Girls, which is generally considered to be the model for the Marcia Blaine School in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. After leaving school, she took a commercial college course, taught English briefly, and worked as a secretary, before marrying and moving to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her husband. The marriage was not a success, and in 1944 Spark returned to England where she did some war work with the Intelligence Service. Her husband and young son, Robin, remained in Rhodesia, although Robin later returned to Britain and was raised by his maternal grandparents in Scotland. The relationship between Spark and her son was fraught and remained so until her death in 2006.
Although she wrote during her teenage years, Spark’s professional literary career began fairly late in life. From 1947 onwards, while she was editor of the Poetry Review, she wrote poetry and literary criticism. But she did not publish her first novel, The Comforters, until 1957. This was followed by 21 further novels, amongst them The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960), The Girls of Slender Means (1963), The Hothouse by the East River (1973), A Far Cry from Kensington (1988), Reality and Dreams (1996) and The Finishing School (2004). Undoubtedly her most successful novel was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), which was adapted for stage, television and film. Although her other work did not gain the same public recognition, it was acclaimed in literary circles; she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for The Mandelbaum Gate) in 1965 and the Ingersoll T.S. Eliot Award in 1992, whilst both The Public Image (1968) and Loitering With Intent (1981) were nominated for the Booker Prize.
Collections of her poetry were published in 1967 and 2004, her complete short stories in 2001, and her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, in 1992. She also published various critical and biographical works, including Child of Light (a study of Mary Shelley) in 1951 and a biography of John Masefield in 1953. In addition, Spark produced several works in collaboration with Derek Stanford, including a study of Emily Brontë (1953) and an edited collection of the letters of John Henry Newman (1957). The latter publication was no doubt motivated by Spark’s religious leanings: she joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1954, and references to Catholicism are to be found in many of her fictional works.
In 2003, Muriel Spark was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire for services to literature. She died in Florence in April 2006 .
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