Via Media

Via Media

Muriel Spark

A fascinating interview from her native Scotland

As soon as she stopped taking the pills she began to recover, and as soon as she recovered she converted to Catholicism: a major step for a daughter of Presbyterian Edinburgh. “I find Presbyterianism a bit too censorious. It has great qualities, mostly on the side of truthfulness – they’re very truthful in their approach to life, in the sense of moralistic, but it can be a bit arid,” she says. Catholicism entails a very different way of seeing life, but then “I was seeing life differently anyway. That’s why I was happy to be a Catholic: it matched up with the way I was feeling in any case.” The religious turning point also proved an artistic one, releasing her from whatever had been holding her back. Within three years her first novel, The Comforters – about a young woman who “hears” herself being written into a novel – was published to critical acclaim.

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Mark D. Roberts

posted March 6, 2004 at 12:58 am

As a Presbyterian, I want to criticize anyone who calls us censorious. Well, oh, never mind. But we can be too arid, which is why so many Presbyterians are drawing from the long history of Catholic piety. Truth still matters plenty, but truth isn’t just right ideas. In the end it’s a Person. Peace to all, Mark

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posted March 6, 2004 at 8:29 am

Oh, I’m SO glad to know that as a Presbyterian-turned Catholic, with rather risky taste in beloveds, that I am laying the groundwork to become the sort of old lady I hope someday to be.

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Kevin Jones

posted March 6, 2004 at 3:19 pm

I’ve been thinking of picking up a Spark novel for some time. Can anybody recommend a good place to start?

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Mark R

posted March 6, 2004 at 3:48 pm

I was disappointed to hear Spark say something uncharitably negative about the Holy Father a couple of years back.
I still liked “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” anyway. It was made into a decent film with Maggie Smith in the title role.

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George Sim Johnston

posted March 6, 2004 at 6:01 pm

Spark’s “The Bachelors” is a remarkable treatment of gnosticism, sex and even birth control, set in modern London. All her novels are enjoyable, except “The Image”, which is flat and bitter; in addition to “The Bachelors” the best I’ve read are “Girls of Slendor Means”, which has a great opening paragraph, and “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”.

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Victor Morton

posted March 7, 2004 at 1:25 am

Wow, I had no idea that THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE was written by a fellow Scottish Papist. (I figured the writer might have been Scottish, but Catholic never crossed my mind. PRIME seemed too familiar with upper-class Scottish society, which is even more Proddie-dog than the country as a whole).

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Maclin Horton

posted March 7, 2004 at 7:14 pm

I like Memento Mori, which involves people getting mysterious phone calls that simply remind them that they will die. Haven’t read Miss Jean Brodie but saw the excellent movie a couple of times back in its day (late ’60s? early ’70s?) and remember having the feeling that something was wrong with it: it seemed to cast doubt on the idea that sexual liberation is a great thing. How odd! It featured a sorry spectacle that would become commonplace over the following decade or two: adult ninnies preaching liberation to adolescents and being quite unhappy with the result when the advice is followed.

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