Thursday, May 04, 2006

Muriel Spark's Edinburgh

There was a tribute to Muriel Spark on BBC2 the night before last. Spark guarded her privacy carefully throughout her life (the title of the program was "Elusive Spark") but she did give a lengthy and very candid television interview in 1996. That interview was at the centre of the program.

I wandered up Bruntsfield Place one day last week to have a look at #160 where Spark was born, then made my way up into the Old Town afterwards via the Middle Meadow Walk. The following day I embarked on a reread of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and shortly came upon this passage:

They were crossing the Meadows, a gusty expanse of common land, glaring green under the snowy sky. Their destination was the Old Town, for Miss Brodie had said they should see where history had been lived; and their route had brought them to the Middle Meadow Walk.

All the way through, my renewed familiarity with Edinburgh provided me with an extra layer of enjoyment of the novel.

With that in mind, I was particularly interested to hear Spark say in the interview that she had returned to Edinburgh (she'd left it when she married at the age of nineteen) to write The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. In the novel she depicts the 1930's Edinburgh of her own school days but she wasn't content to rely on her memory to do so. She returned to soak up the atmosphere and to "get the voices."

Spark spoke about several of her other books as well, pronouncing Driver's Seat her best, and said a lot of interesting things about writing generally. I was scribbling madly to get it all down and my notes are rather disjointed. Here are a few snippets to give you a bit of the flavour of it:

A book without judgement isn't a book ... you've got to take a risk ... I don't like timid writers ... When I started there was a lot of timid writing, especially by women. I hope that's finished.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie has been chosen for the next Slaves of Golconda group read, so I'll save my detailed reflections on it for a post in connection with that at the end of June. Please read along with us and join in the discussion.


Dorothy W. said...

I think I might join the Slaves this time around -- I'm very interested in reading Spark.

I love exploring the places authors lived and wrote about!

plord said...

her son still lives in edinburgh, and the house looks onto the meadows with the castle and old town centre stage from her front room window.