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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The French in Spark : Muriel Spark’s fruitful misreading of Baudelaire, Proust and the nouveau Roman Groves, Robyn


There are three phases in Muriel Spark's career as a writer of Catholic surrealist satire. Each of these stages replies to a specific writer, and to an identifiable period within the French literary tradition. Each stage marks a significant shift in the development of Spark's novelistic skills. In my introductory chapter, I consider her work in the 1950's— both poetry and prose—written in response to a reading of Baudelaire. Her two major pieces in Collected Poems I—"The Ballad of the Fanfarlo" and "The Nativity"—both incorporate and reply to Baudelaire's youthful short story, "La Fanfarlo." In her poetry, she takes an astringent, classical position which denounces, as she considered Baudelaire had done, the false values of Romanticism. In 1953, her first published', short story, "The Seraph and the Zambesi," which again has Baudelaire's characters as its cast, marks her final response to the French writer, whose influence has overshadowed her transition from poet to prose writer. From the body of his work, she extracted his method of locating ideal correspondences between objects and people, which provides the initial impulse for a principle which is to underlie her mature prose— "the transfiguration of the commonplace." From 1953 until the mid-sixties, Spark wrote a series of novels based on a provocative misreading of Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. To her interest in and application of, Baudelaire's correspondences, she added Proust's technique for extracting the essences of objects, people and moments. She was fascinated with the dual possibilities of "satire" and "exaltation" in his handling of metaphor. In The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means and The Hothouse by the East River, she fashions her transfiguring techniques into a conceptual and narrative framework which will encompass all of her fictional intentions: allegorical, satirical and transcendental. She called this construction "a time and landscape of the mind." ? Since 1970, Spark has been increasingly influenced by the French Nouveau Roman. Between The Public Image (1968) and Territorial Rights (1979), her mental times and allegorical landscapes have shifted from actual places—Edinburgh, London and New York—and specific times in history, to disembodied landscapes of the mind. Her increasing reliance on form rather than verisimilitude, has made particular use of Alain Robbe-Grillet's techniques for manipulating space and time. Spark's novel, The Driver's Seat (1970), can be read as a reply to Robbe-Grillet's Les Gommes (1953), incorporating especially his elimination of the poetic and metaphysical referents from narrative. With the elimination of these elements, her novels become exclusively concerned with language as the purest allegorical "landscape" for modern consciousness.

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