Snapshots of Muriel Spark

Margaret Drabble at the TLS:

Independent and self-reliant, Spark was not an ideological feminist, although she portrayed strong and self-willed women, ranging from school teachers to film stars, abbesses, terrorists and billionaires. Even her admirers (among them Joyce Carol Oates, Ali Smith and Elaine Feinstein) use words such as “arch”, “pert” and “sly” to describe her prose, compliments which some feminists might reject as sexist. Catholics see her as a Catholic writer, but while her work has something in common with that of her supporter Graham Greene, her attitudes to her faith are far from conventional. Frank Kermode (who thought Spark “our best novelist”) describes her religion as “bafflingly idiosyncratic”. She wrote of sin and suffering, liked to split theological hairs, and was particularly drawn to the Book of Job, but many of her portraits of believers are caustic in the extreme. The devout, gullible and multiple-bosomed Mrs Hogg in her first novel, The Comforters(1957), the pig-eyed treacherous convert Sandy Stranger in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, the divinely wicked Abbess of Crewe and her silly flock, and the camp and parasitical Jesuits, Father Cuthbert Plaice and Father Gerard Harvey (scholar of ecological paganism) in The Takeover (1976), do not show the Church in a good light. The whisky priests and tormented adulterers of Greene fare better at the hands of their creator. This can be puzzling to readers of other faiths or none, though Greene, Evelyn Waugh and David Lodge – all fellow Catholics, and all admirers of Spark – do not seem to discern meaningful incongruities between faith and art.

more here.