Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard - review by David Pryce-Jones

David Pryce-Jones

The Prime of Miss Camberg

Muriel Spark: The Biography


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 672pp £25

A favourite theme of Muriel Spark's was the way that people tried to take over the lives of others. For her, the fight to be freely oneself was the one important fight, in literature as in life. To be at the mercy of others was to be their victim, and that was insufferable – how she rejected victimhood! During the last ten years of her life, she used to inveigh against Martin Stannard and this biography that he was proposing. He was made out to be the latest in the line of cheapskates who had tried so frequently and odiously to take over her life. The thousand pages of his first draft were apparently full of errors and absurdities. Through her friendship with Henry Kissinger, for instance, she was said to have helped prolong the Vietnam War. She was not going to be misrepresented, even traduced; she would never volunteer to be a victim. Writs and injunctions hovered in her talk.

In the kind of contrast fit for a Spark novel, Martin Stannard gives a very different account. A professor of English literature, he had written about Evelyn Waugh when Muriel took the initiative to rope him in to be her official biographer, and made available whatever papers and

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