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Muriel Spark. The biography by Martin…
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Muriel Spark. The biography (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Martin Stannard (Author)

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1262141,734 (3.42)28
Member:edwinbcn
Title:Muriel Spark. The biography
Authors:Martin Stannard (Author)
Info:London: Phoenix (2010)
Collections:Physical Copy, Your library, Read All Time, Read in 2019
Rating:***
Tags:English Literature, British Literature, Biography, Muriel Spark

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Muriel Spark : The biography by Martin Stannard (2009)

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This is an exasperating and troubling biography, though my opinion could be clouded by pre-publication rumor. As Stannard notes in his preface, he was handpicked by Spark to write her biography. This was enough to get the rumor mill going early. A biography of Spark at the request of Spark?! Spark had always been known to be fabulously private, even going so far to write her autobiography, Curriculum Vitae, a monument to pure evasion that touched upon nothing that most readers were probably reading the book for in the first place. Why would *she* invite a biographer into her life? *cue some major control issues*

Stannard also notes that while not holding veto power over him, Spark did hold the power to confirm the title of "Authorized Biography" over the book depending upon how he treated his subject. Here's where the rumor comes in: Spark apparently did withhold the coveted designation of "authorized biography," and then she died. Her literary executrix then took over, also withholding the official imprimatur until she had scrupulously gone over every line of the book in order to "correct" the picture painted of her friend.

If any or all of these rumors are true, it shows in this biography. The text is mushy and imprecise, with many sentences directly contradicting the preceding one. It does indeed read like an account of a woman in which every word has been tinkered with in order to manipulate the subject just so. Parts of Spark's life (presumably the less flattering parts, of which I gather there are many) are scandalously glossed over while Stannard balances this out by spending too much time with dull literary interpretations of the writers peripheral to Spark's career. I don't normally blame the biographer for disliking the subject of his biography, but in this case there is a bit of blame to be meted out to Stannard. Who would write a biography under these circumstances, knowing that the result would be so intellectually dishonest?

Spark's curious readers will continue to wait for the definitive account of her life; this just isn't it. ( )
1 vote mambo_taxi | Jun 18, 2014 |
This book was serialised and broadcast by the BBC. It was in 1992 that Muriel Spark gave access to all her papers, letters and diaries to enable Martin Stannard to write this excellent and eminently interesting biography. Her life has been described as a ‘Cinderela’ type of life. This work tells of how she overcame darker moments, depression and challenging relationships. Born in 1918 in Edinburgh the journey of life took her to many places ranging from Rhodesia to Rome. The influence of her life and times upon her work was especially illuminating. For those interested in women of the 20th century and their writing this book is highly recommended. ( )
5 vote juliette07 | Aug 10, 2009 |
Showing 2 of 2
Contemplator of God, party-going sybarite; unpretentious working girl, resplendent queen bee; generous friend, vengeful harpy; hard-nosed businesswoman, self-blinding paranoiac; lofty visionary, litigious terror—Dame Muriel Sarah Camberg Spark was all of these. Whether in Heaven, Hell, or (what seems likeliest after reading this sympathetic portrait) Purgatory, she has reason to be grateful to Martin Stannard for a continuously dramatic biography encompassing all sides of her contradictory nature. It is more likely, however, that Spark’s immortal soul is in high dudgeon and talking to lawyers.
added by Shortride | editHarper's Magazine, Benjamin Taylor (pay site) (May 1, 2010)
 
Her autobiography, “Curriculum Vitae,” is a little masterwork of evasiveness and score-settling that reveals next to nothing about the woman who wrote it. Her version is nevertheless more fun to read than Stannard’s, which is long, a little humorless and employs more stylistic infelicities than seems fitting for a book about a writer of Spark’s natural grace and sureness. There are dangling constructions, clichéd metaphors she would never use (unwritten books are “washed away in a tsunami of change”; Spark is “rejuvenated as a blazing new talent in the literary firmament”) and sentences like this one — about Jay Presson Allen, who adapted “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” for the stage — that combine weary metaphor with baffling indirection: “She perpetually set Muriel’s teeth on edge but this was not the reason for Muriel spending large sums on dental surgery.” Yet Stannard’s book is thorough, judicious and insightful about Spark’s fiction. Its only major fault, if this can be called one, is a tendency to overapologize for its subject.
 
In other words, Muriel Spark, who believed the worst about others, had the self-fulfilling knack of bringing out the worst in them, and it is to the credit of Martin Stannard that, in spite of his personal dealings with his subject and his complex indebtedness to her—Spark effectively handpicked her own biographer—he has produced a life story of splendid equanimity and sympathy.
 
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Muriel Sarah Camberg arrived in the middle of the night (3 a.m., 1 February 1918) and immediately became her parents' princess.
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In 1992 the Spark invited Martin Stannard to write her biography, offering interviews and full access to her papers. The result is this biography of the Scottish author.

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