Transcript of the video 'Sparkiving: Loitering with intent to catalogue'
Dr. Colin McIlroy
23 June 2016, National Library of Scotland
Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the National Library of Scotland. I'd like to thank all of you for coming along, not least because I thought that such an awful title to a talk would put most of you off. But it appears that you're made of sterner stuff, so I'm delighted you're here.
[image: Archive boxes]
Before we go any further I'd also like to thank those who contributed to the campaign to raise the funds for the final accession, and thereby complete the purchase of the archive. I know that some of you here tonight contributed, and ensuring that an absolutely vital part of our cultural heritage will be accessible to all is something for which we should all be very, very grateful. So thank you.
Tonight I'm going to talk about some of the things that I've uncovered in the six months since I started as project curator of the Muriel Spark Archive here at the National Library of Scotland. So this isn't a comprehensive survey of the entire archive, but of what's recently come to light.
Since 1992, we've acquired a new accession following the publication of Dame Muriel's latest work. So the material relating to 'Curriculum vitae' is in one accession, 'Reality and dreams' in the next, and so on until her final novel, 'The finishing school' in 2004. Material from earlier in her life is spread throughout, but for the most part the accessions are usually constructed around one of her later works. The Spark archive, as you can probably see, is the largest modern literary archive that we have here at the National Library of Scotland, totalling over 150 feet of boxes containing manuscripts, typescripts, letters, notebooks, correspondence, and ephemera.
So what worth did Spark place on her archive, or on archives in general? If we take a quick look to her fiction we see that archives, estates, executors, and manuscripts all make regular appearances. In poems such as 'Going up to Sothebys' and in stories such as 'The executor', 'The fathers' daughters', and 'Open to the public', the whole business of archives in which we currently find ourselves is played out in her work.
You may be familiar with her words from 'Curriculum vitae', where she says:
'After leaving the Poetry Society I became aware of the value of documentary evidence, both as a means of personal defence against inaccuracies and as an aid to one's own memory. Consequently, since 1949 onwards I have thrown away practically nothing on paper.'
She reinforces this point in a 1992 correspondence with Jackie Onassis — I can't believe I get paid to do this — so, correspondence with Jackie Onassis, who was for a period working as an editor at the American publishers Doubleday. Spark states that 'I have the advantage of having never thrown away any letters or documents'.
We see the humorous side, at least I hope it's the humorous side to this, in Spark's 1989 story 'Open to the public', where you can't help but feel that Dame Muriel was having a laugh, perhaps at Penelope Jardine's expense, or perhaps at ours here at the National Library of Scotland (In case you don't know, Penelope was Spark's best friend, assistant, and now the executor of the Spark estate. She was also, technically, Spark's landlady).
In the story 'Open to the public', the character Ben Donadieu says to his wife Dora, regarding her father's vast archive, 'you'll never get through those papers […] It's an enormous job. The letters alone — .'
And then the real tragedy — or is it comedy?
Some years later, the estranged Ben and Dora are reunited at the house of Henry Castlemain, Dora's father, and faced with the 'piles of archives going back to 1890 or worse' they make the following choice, and I quote:
'They lit a bonfire in the garden that night. It took them many hours to burn all the Castlemain papers. But they sat around drinking […] watching the flames curl round the papers […] until they were all consumed.'
What were they thinking? I tell you, this passage has given me nightmares ever since I started this job! Thank goodness Henry Castlemain and his archive of magnitude were only imaginary! As I said, I hope this is a joke, as Spark must have known this would terrify anyone working on her archive!
In real life, something akin to this actually happens to one of Spark's friends, the academic, writer and critic Frank Kermode. In a fax dated 23 November 1996, Spark writes a touching message, saying:
'Dear Frank, Hearing about a frightful loss of some of your papers I was about to write you a consolatory letter. I don't know if such an event is consolable and can only hope that some part, maybe a good part of your archives were saved.'
So the burning of the imaginary archive is tempered by the real archive revealing Spark's sympathy at Kermode's loss of his papers. 'I don't know if such an event is consolable', she says, and that, I think, is as clear as you could possibly hope for, proving that it's not just her own archive that she values. Of course, why would she think otherwise? She then says that Kermode's review of her 1996 novel 'Reality and dreams', made her 'very happy. I feel touched by the close and sensitive attention you give to my work'. Spark was 78 at the time, and she closes on a rather melancholy note, saying simply, 'I am quite old now. Fond remembrances, Muriel'.
[image: Elizabeth Taylor letter]
So what's been discovered? As I said, the parts of the archive already listed by Robin Smith, contain correspondence with writers such as Iris Murdoch, Saul Bellow, Doris Lessing, John Updike, Gore Vidal, Graeme Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. Stars and actors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Glenda Jackson, Alec Guinness, Vanessa Redgrave, and of course Maggie Smith. Politicians such as former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, royals, dignitaries, literary critics, and a whole host of the great and the good all feature, and some of these are still correspondents in the later accessions.
In fact, the final accession, which I haven't yet listed, but have had a sneak peak at, has a phenomenal series of letters from the period 2001 to 2005 between Spark and Doris Lessing, reminiscing about the years when they each lived in Africa, on their families, on writing. Just two grande dames of literature chatting away, but with a sudden turn of phrase that elevates even the most mundane subject to sublime heights. It is an epistolary transfiguration of the commonplace. Figures such as George Mackay Brown, Ali Smith, and Candia McWilliam give just a hint at the depth and talent represented from Scottish as well as international literature.
So as we've heard, Spark had friends in high places. What's less known is her generosity of time and spirit towards writers at the outset of their careers, and to the huge number of fans who wrote to her. She invariably took the time to reply, with fans often becoming friends, and friends invariably becoming long term correspondents. As she said in 'Curriculum vitae': 'I am a hoarder of two things: documents and trusted friends'.
She takes the time to read much of what amateur writers send her, offering praise and encouragement in generous measure. And throughout these correspondences her sense of humour shines through. One fan, best described as falling into the category of slightly 'eccentric', writes: 'Pluto's conjunction with your Ascendant […] in some instances can refer to death'. Despite suffering from acute hip pain, Spark's reply is the epitome of grace and comic understatement: 'I am very glad I escaped the impending doom you read in my horoscope and feel that a temporary set-back is not quite so drastic'. I love that: 'not quite so drastic' as death!
[image: Poetry manuscripts]
You may have heard the fascinating recent BBC Radio 4 programme 'The poetic Spark' presented by A L Kennedy, and featuring interviews with, among others, Penelope Jardine. In her Foreword to Carcanet's 2003 'All the poems', Spark said 'Although most of my life has been devoted to fiction, I have always thought of myself as a poet'. So it's been an absolute joy to come across three folders full of the annotated typescripts and manuscripts of poems ranging from Spark's school days through to the mid-80s, although most are from the 40s and early 50s. These poems will require in-depth study to do them justice. There are approximately 150 poems, around a third of which have never been published. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a treasure chest in and of itself.
There are a number of things that immediately jump out.
On the reverse of one 1929 poem titled 'Shell Tales (School poem)', Spark has added the note 'Very early works. Take with pinch of salt (and double gin)'. Which is good advice at (almost) any time.
In an act of generosity to scholars and fans, Spark has added the date and her location at the time of writing to many of these poems. So we now know that 'They sigh for old dreams' was written in Madeira in 1937, while Spark was on her way to settle in South Rhodesia. 'Frantic a child ran' was written in Capetown in 1944, while 'The tide is coming in' was written in September 1945 in Liverpool. This is fantastic: you can actually trace her physical journey as well as her poetic journey.
Included is what I believe is Spark's only example of concrete poetry. Titled 'Cogitation upon the grammar and sense of advent' — an obvious reference to John Henry Newman's 1870 work 'An essay in aid of a grammar of assent'. The poem is typed in the shape of a crucifix, and dates from approximately 1951, but may be earlier. There is an entire sequence of poems titled 'Song of the Divided Lover', with Spark going by the pseudonym 'Aquarius'. Which she was, astrology fans. The title page is marked '30 poems: 645 lines', and there is a further sequence titled 'A Love Cycle'. My estimate is that this sequence dates from 1948-50, and gives a remarkable insight into Spark's poetic thinking at the time. This of course pre-dates her first collection, 1952's 'The Fanfarlo and other verse', and as such gives us a clear picture of what appears to be a complete, fully sequenced collection, unpublished, but at an advanced stage.
What's also notable is that as well as 'Aquarius', Spark is writing under another pseudonym: 'Mary Stranger'. Note the initials: M S. And what about that familiar sounding surname, Stranger? Around a decade before Sandy Stranger 'betrays' Jean Brodie, Spark is using the surname for herself. And a quick question: Is it a betrayal? Is it true — as Sandy says — that 'it's only possible to betray where loyalty is due'? It's always a puzzle. It's also evident from labels attached to a number of these poems that during the early 50s Derek Stanford was acting as Spark's literary agent of sorts, and attempting to promote these poems. Spark and Stanford were in a relationship, and were literary compatriots from the late 40s to the early 50s. Poems such as 'Gale Warning (7am BBC Weather Forecast)', and 'On coming out of a nightclub' all appear with the name Mary Stranger and a label 'care of Stanford', with his name and address handwritten on the attached label.
However, one poem titled '"I am half sick of shadows," said the Lady of Shalott', has a curious addition: next to the name Mary Stranger, which is written in Stanford's handwriting, Spark has written in her real name, and beside this has added the words 'My poem'. Why would she write this? Was she changing her mind regarding the use of her pseudonym, or was something more sinister going on? Was Stanford attempting to pass this poem, or these poems, off as his own?
I've occasionally felt sorry for the man: the merciless portrayal of him as Hector Bartlett, the pisseur de copie in 'A far cry from Kensington' seemed, well, verging on cruel. But as Robert Hosmer has noted, Spark's 'success and reputation never ceased to rankle Stanford, and he took his revenge embellishing, often fabricating, accounts of their life together, falsifying and contradicting documentary evidence and even selling her love letters to him'. [See Note one] Would it therefore have been beyond him to claim authorship of her poetry?
In the interest of fairness, I should say that in addition to the early critical works — on Wordsworth, the Brontes, Mary Shelley and Newman — we do know that they also co-wrote some poems. And perhaps she was simply clarifying that she was Mary Stranger. However, the question remains, did Stanford overstep the mark in relation to this poem, or these poems? Because if so, it's another part of the narrative that helps to explain the vitriol heaped on his fictional representation, Hector Bartlett.
And one final quick point on the subject. A 1992 letter from a friend of Spark's notes that, D S (who could that be?)
'wasn't averse to using you to get in with Macmillan […] I remember the manuscript of his autobiography arriving and Alan Maclean [Spark's editor at Macmillan] saying, "I've read the first volume, 300 pages, and he hasn't even been born yet."'
Returning to Spark's use of the name Stranger, there's another nice little detail that emerges. During the period 1947-48, Spark was editor of the 'Poetry Review' and General Secretary of the Poetry Society.
[image: 'The Poetry Review']
Here's an image that shows a couple of editions from during her editorship. You can see her name about three quarters of the way down the page. And if you look closely, you'll also see the passage from Proverbs chapter 29, verse 18, which in around 13 years' time will become familiar to all Jean Brodie fans: 'Where there is no vision the people perish'.
[image: 'The Poetry Review']
Alongside the name Stranger, it appears that elements of Spark's most famous work are percolating in her imagination for some time before she writes 'The prime of Miss Jean Brodie' in 1961. I love coming across these hints, these foreshadowings of Spark's 'famous' works, here, early in her career. It's the archive revealing her creative origins, her inspirations, her sources, sometimes across decades.
As I mentioned, these poems require close attention, and we are in conversation with Penelope Jardine over a collaborative web resource. I would love to be able to show you images of these poems tonight, but they are under copyright, so the idea is to make a selection available, alongside some of the Spark material held at McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa. I get the impression that many people aren't aware that Spark sold part of her archive to the University of Tulsa in the late 80s. This collaboration would be a step towards bringing together the two disparate parts of the archive into a single online destination, and make available a selection of these unpublished poems, alongside other Spark material. It's something we're really excited about, and we will keep you posted.
In an article in the 'Sunday Times' of 22 September 1996, Geordie Greig states that during the writing of her 1996 novel 'Reality and dreams', Spark 'As ever […] wrote unhesitatingly on to the page, seldom revising a word', and in the 'Sunday Telegraph' a few months later, Helena de Bertodano says of Spark 'She writes fast, rarely revising anything'.
As these articles attest, the prevailing narrative is that Spark was what you might call a lightning strike writer. She researched, wrote when inspiration struck, and rarely re-drafted. However, what the archive has revealed so far is that this needs to be reconsidered. Of course there were many occasions where the familiar story — often repeated by Spark herself — was true, but as I hope to show you, things are not quite so simple as they seem.
From her first published story 'The Seraph and the Zambezi', winner of the 'Observer' short story competition in 1951, and throughout the rest of her career, Spark continued to publish perfectly-pitched stories where the supernatural and the surreal come into collision — and collusion — with the everyday. Fast forward nearly 40 years to the early 1990s, and we find Spark, long established as a writer of international stature, revisiting a number of these early short stories: retyping some, completely re-drafting others, and reselling a number. The mystery is, why — with her 19th novel about to be published — does she return to her literary beginnings? Why these stories, and why now?
And the stories themselves — well, these early stories give evidence of her nevertheless principle at work. They're predominantly mystery or ghost stories, or rather, they concern crime and the supernatural, but just as it's perhaps both clichéd, and yet true, to suggest that just as Spark is no ordinary mystery writer, she's no writer of ordinary mysteries. The stories reflect this in that they transcend genre distinctions, evading — like most of Spark's fiction — easy categorisation, being rather numinous, blurring the boundaries between ghost stories, fable, murder mystery, and metafictional experimentation.
The 1950s see a number of these stories appear in a range of publications. 'The girl I left behind me' if you remember, is the story of the girl employed at Mark Letter (Screws and Nails) Ltd., who leaves the office but can't get the song 'The girl I left behind me' out of her head, because her boss, the aforementioned Mark Letter, is always humming it. Feeling distinctly uneasy, sure that she's left 'something important behind' at the office, she returns to work, only to find to find… well, that would be giving it away.
[image: Mystery magazines]
The story appears first in 'The Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine' in April 1957, then the fantastically quirky publication 'The Norseman' the following year. After a gap of 34 years, the story is re-sold for Constable's 'Winter's tales 8' anthology, and in 1993 it appears in the Argentinian newspaper 'La Naçion'. That's four separate publications. Nearly 40 years after its first appearance in print, the story finally makes it to book status, in the 1994 Penguin 'Collected stories'. This story remained almost unchanged with only minor alterations to the text of the original 1957 version. For me, 'The girl I left behind me' is one of Spark's best stories, the way in which the narrative's unsettling atmosphere is created so subtly, contrasting with the perfect revelatory force of the ending's spectral twist. Which I'll leave you to revisit, and not spoil for those of you who haven't read it.
The archive reveals that a similar pattern is repeated for a number of early stories. Her 1953 tale 'The pearly shadow' appears in 'The Norseman' in 1955 [image: 'The Norseman'], is distributed for resale in 1990, revised in 1994, and reappears in 'The Spectator' Christmas 1994 edition [image: 'Spectator' with spooky cover], comically billed on the cover as 'Muriel Spark with her spooky short story'. And spooky it is. For good measure, it also shows up in 'Winter's tales 11' the following year.
In contrast to the minor alterations that Spark makes to 'The girl I left behind me', 'The pearly shadow' is expanded to twice the length. In this story, the pearly shadow is, as you can probably guess, a ghostly figure who loiters around the offices of the resident psychiatrist at a nursing home. The re-write continues on from the point where the pearly shadow walks through the body of Nurse Simmons, and it goes on to reveal why he's been haunting the office of Dr Felicity Grayland.
Looking at these manuscripts, it's fascinating to see Spark's amendments and alterations, and to be able to follow her workings as she drafts and re-drafts stories such as this one. The early short version of 'The pearly shadow' is a great story, and the later re-write manages to expand the tale without losing its 'spooky' element, or — no pun intended — the spirit of the original. Nurse Simmons' unease when the shadow walks through her is made palpable to the reader via Spark's precise language, namely the one word: 'heaving', as this passage shows:
'"He walked right through me," said the nurse, heaving, "and he came out the other side."'
No over-complication of description, no complex interiority accessing her thoughts, just the right word in the right place: Sparkian precision and economy at its finest.
Of all the early stories, 'Harper and Wilton' undergoes the most radical re-imagining, becoming a story within a story. The original version features the eponymous Suffragettes being jailed for disturbing the peace, by allegedly enticing a young man to climb a drainpipe to gain entry to one of their rooms; Harper's, apparently. It's also an early example of Spark's attitude towards group identification, with Wilton attempting to stitch up Harper — so much for sisterhood. In the early '90s rewrite, Spark has the two forgotten suffragettes come to life — along with the cross-eyed boy of the original (who is referred to as a student, not a student, and 'an idiot' — and, disgruntled at being consigned to a drawer for decades, they demand of the narrator 'give us substance otherwise we'll haunt you'.
In this re-drafted version, they come to embody the fears about the obligations of the author — perhaps any author — towards their creations, their characters, as expressed in Spark's 1979 poem 'Created and Abandoned', where she asks:
'Did something next not happen? Or are you
limbo'd there where I left you forever like characters
in a story one has started to write and set aside?
I hope you're not looking for me
night after night, not waiting for me to come back.
I feel a definite responsibility for your welfare.
Are you all right?'
So the revised version of Harper and Wilton has something akin to the supernatural, but not quite. As I mentioned, Spark doesn't write ordinary hauntings, or straightforward mysteries. They threaten the narrator with haunting, but once the ending is re-written according to their wishes, they vanish, apparently satisfied.
The new parts of the story, alongside Harper and Wilton's return to life, function as an extended metaphor for Spark's creative practice during the early 90s period. We can read 'Harper and Wilton' as representing the stories themselves, rediscovered and revisited after nearly 40 years, and in this perhaps lies part of the answer to 'why these stories, why now'? Perhaps the thoughts expressed in 'Created and abandoned' had been playing upon Spark's mind, perhaps these stories had been haunting her, their ghostly presences lurking in the recesses of her creative mind, awaiting rebirth, resurrection, awaiting and then demanding 'substance'.
But what's also interesting is that in the new beginning to the tale, the narrator claims of the story that 'It was never published. Was it finished? I didn't find the two characters, Harper and Wilton, very sympathetic, but I had certainly had some fun with them'. However, the original version was published, appearing in the 1953 short story anthology 'Pick of today's short stories'.
[image: 'Pick of today's short stories']
Did Spark forget? Perhaps, but we should be careful that we don't make an over simplistic equation here between Spark and her narrator. This is something that she wrote about in her piece 'My conversion' — or should I say, she talked about it, as Penelope's introduction to 'The golden fleece' revealed that this was in fact a series of answers Spark gave during an interview, and not a 'written' article as such. Anyway, Spark says 'I have to decide what the author of the narrative is like. It's not me, it's a character'. So either Spark did forget the story had been published, or this is all part of her creative methodology, to have her narrator forget about these characters, while she doesn't; after all it's Spark herself who remembers them, then brings them back to life.
Whatever the reasons, the re-substancing, or re-constituting, of Harper and Wilton (and don't forget poor Joe, the cross-eyed, drain-pipe climbing idiot gardener) provides all manner of metafictional fun for all, and for our purposes, is an important part of our questioning the prevalent critical narrative that Spark rarely revised her work. As I hope I'm showing, these stories are not isolated incidents, but part of a wider pattern of revisiting and revising material.
So in the end, Harper and Wilton get their wish, and are given substance in a 1996 limited edition published by Colophon Press, and are subsequently anthologised in the 2011 Canongate edition of 'The complete short stories'. I would encourage you — if you haven't already — to come and see the manuscripts of these fantastic versions of the stories. However, in the case of this story, you can see the original 1950s version and the redrafted 1990s version in the 2011 Canongate collection, because, [image: Open book pages] as this picture shows, the original is the indented part, with the new sections placed before and after. So you get the original story embedded in its entirety within the new version.
Just as 'The girl I left behind me', and 'Harper and Wilton' are recovered and resold, so too is 'Lavishes ghast', a story similar in tone and atmosphere to 'Memento mori', with the presence and prospect of death lurking always close by. It's written in 1953, published in 'Esquire Magazine' in 1964, then published by Cuckoo Press 45 years after its first incarnation, as 'The quest for Lavishes ghast' in 1998.
Similar treatment is given to the stories 'Ladies and gentlemen', and 'The end of summer time'. 'Ladies and gentlemen' was published in three different magazines by 1965. This rate of publication for a single story seems remarkable, but Spark isn't finished, and a 'new revision' in 1994 sees the story being prepared for sale again.
The story 'The end of summer time', or 'Chimes' as it is titled in the collected edition, is further evidence of Spark the re-drafter, the reviser. The first annotated typescript dating from the mid-50s shows that the story actually starts life as the scene from a play, and includes an attached note with Spark and Jardine querying the story's publication history. Given the size of the archive, and what we've discovered about 'Harper and Wilton', this isn't a complete surprise.
[image: 'London Mystery']
The story is first published in the 'London Mystery Selection No.37' in June 1958, but following the checking and retyping in 1990, it is sold to the 'Mail on Sunday' and published in their Sunday supplement 'You' magazine on 2 October 1995. However, by this time, the story has been renamed, becoming 'Chimes' — albeit erroneously titled 'The chimes' in the newspaper version. Once the story is published then, the title changes, but crucially, in the pre-publication period we again see Spark redrafting her work, changing the format of the story from a play to a short story. All of which is significant in that it is further evidence of a methodology which calls into question the notion that she rarely redrafted, that she rarely revised her material.
So what can we say about the questions posed earlier? What's clear is that while many of these stories are redrafted in the early 90s, the archive reveals that there has been an on-going process of revision throughout. Perhaps not to the extent to suggest that Spark is an entirely different writer than we previously thought, but certainly to the extent that suggests we reconsider our understanding of how she worked, and, of course, this leads us to reconsider the work itself.
So what prompted her to return to these particular stories over 30 — in some cases nearly 40 years — after they were written? Perhaps, like her characters Harper and Wilton, she felt they had languished unread for too long, not having been — by the early 90s — collected in any anthology. Perhaps the re-editing of existing material was a new creative approach, or perhaps in preparation for her 1992 autobiography 'Curriculum vitae', she had re-read these early stories and thought them worthy of resurrecting. I think it's a combination of these factors, and I think we should also consider that the re-editing of extant material was a way to ease herself out of a fallow spell, to reinvigorate her creativity. Whatever the reason, it's an important consideration, not least because it goes against the prevailing myth, the prevailing critical norm.
And of course, the reworking of the stories is only part of the narrative — the re-selling of them is another. Indeed, the archive reveals that there is no mystery about the level of dedication and industry involved.
[image: Fax detail]
Fax correspondence shows Spark and her assistant Penelope Jardine acting akin to publicists and promoters, proactively encouraging Spark's agents to sell these stories, especially in new 'linguistic' territories: 'South America? Catalan? — and what about Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Dutch?' asks Jardine in a fax of June 1993.
This industriousness should come as no surprise, as one remarkable letter from 1988 shows.
[image: Christmas typed letter]
Here, Spark writes to her agent to enquire about her story 'Open to the public'. But note the date: it's 25 December, Christmas Day! Apparently there was no such thing as a day off for Dame Muriel.
Yet Muriel, Penelope, and their agents weren't always successful in getting these stories placed. The 'New Yorker Magazine' was always a great supporter and promoter of her work, having published 'The prime of Miss Jean Brodie' and 'The driver's seat' in their entirety, serialised sections of 'The Mandelbaum gate', and published numerous stories and poems. But correspondence reveals that they reject the re-written version of 'Harper and Wilton', and decline to publish it. But this only prompts Muriel and Penelope to push for publication elsewhere, rightly convinced of the worth of these stories, and further evidence of their belief in Spark's writing, and dedication to keeping the work alive and in circulation. And just for any cynics amongst you, the fees involved in the re-selling of the stories do little to suggest that money was a motive.
Other things the archive reveals: well, who would have guessed that Spark was a soap opera fan? Well she was, of the American soap 'The bold and the beautiful', hugely popular in Italy where it goes under the name 'Beautiful', and is apparently the 'most watched soap opera in the world'. In a lovely glimpse into their friendship, Penelope wrote hilarious synopses on the famous yellow legal paper, of any episode that Dame Muriel missed when she was away from Tuscany. Given that these date from around 1993, one can only presume that they didn't have a video recorder!
One of the most enjoyable aspects of working through the archive has been the unexpected bonus that is the artwork and the writing of Penelope Jardine. Hers is an important presence in the archive, not just as the archivist in Tuscany, but as the artist and illustrator of wonderfully colourful labels, Christmas faxes, comic sketches, and innumerable fabulous drawings of cats. She really is a fantastic artist and illustrator.
And a great letter writer too. In fact Barbara Epler, of whom Dame Muriel said 'for wisdom, charm, humour and intuition, must be the envy of every author', says in a fax from 1997, that she thinks Penelope should have been a writer. High praise indeed.
What else does the archive reveal about Spark? Well, we know that a number of Spark novels were adapted, with 'The prime of Miss Jean Brodie', 'The driver's seat', and 'The Abbess of Crewe' (retitled as 'Nasty habits') all making it to the big screen. Numerous others were adapted for television, stage and radio. The correspondence reveals an additional number of tantalising projects that were never realised. Professor Robert Hosmer of Smith College has produced some sterling work on the so far unlisted parts of the archive here at the Library. He says:
'Spark herself wrote the screenplay for an adaptation of 'The takeover' [her 1976 novel], to be directed by Joseph Losey, but his death cancelled the project. For a film version of 'Not to disturb', Spark adamantly wanted Alec Guinness to play the central role of Lister the butler. To Gordon Smith, the screenwriter, she wrote [on 31 May 1972], 'Yes, Alec Guinness is the obvious Lister because I created the character specially for him'. However, Guinness proved a slippery fish to net.' [See Note one]
In addition to what Professor Hosmer states here, the recently opened correspondence reveals that following Losey's death in 1984, Glenda Jackson was reading the script of 'The takeover', with a view to resurrecting the project. A memo dated 6 May 1987 says that Jackson has 'Dirk Bogarde in mind for Hubert, herself for Maggie'. A later memo dated 19 January 1993 reveals that the American director Robert Enders thought Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau would be great in the roles, and in yet another permutation, Spark's US agent sends the screenplay to Marlon Brando in the hope that he would consider the part of Hubert Mallindaine! [See Note two]
Returning to 1987, a run of correspondence begins what would be perhaps the most tantalising, revealing, and undoubtedly surprising, of all of the unrealised film projects. Speaking of Glenda Jackson, in a fax dated 4 October 1987, Spark says to Robert Enders 'She has great artistic energy and is incapable of vulgarity or fatuousness. How could she not succeed?' This was in relation to Jackson and her desire to make her directorial debut with a film of Spark's 1959 novel 'Memento mori', (which is a bona fide classic, and you should all have read it). It was eventually made for television by the BBC in 1992, starring Dame Maggie Smith, who, of course, won the Oscar for best actress in 1969 for her performance as Jean Brodie. It appears Glenda Jackson wasn't involved in the 1992 BBC adaptation, but she was to be involved in the next project.
[image: Fax detail]
In a fax dated 24 September 1992 to her US agent, Spark says the following:
'Enclosed is the announcement to be sent out to 'Variety' and 'The Stage' [the trade magazines of the film industry]. I would like this to be done very soon — to-day or tomorrow.
I am sure this is the right thing. A film of this nature is very much what I want.'
The film that she's referring to is outlined in the accompanying press release, which, quite unbelievably, is written by Spark herself.
[image: Press release]
In this she says:
'Bowden Productions Ltd. have arranged for a film of Muriel Spark's early life. The name of the movie is 'LOITERING WITH INTENT' [sic], the title of Spark's autobiographical novel. Her recent autobiography 'Curriculum vitae 'which covers factually the same ground as her fictional 'Loitering with intent' will be incorporated into the movie. [And remember, despite being in the third person, this is Spark writing this!] Robert Enders, an admirer of Muriel Spark's work, directed and produced 'Nasty habits' an adaptation of her novel 'The Abbess of Crewe', starring Glenda Jackson. He also produced 'STEVIE', based on the life of Stevie Smith.'
Bowden Productions was the company formed by Glenda Jackson with Robert Enders, and which suggests that with Enders as probable director, Jackson would most likely have been involved perhaps as producer, or in an acting role. Though most likely not, I might add, as Spark, given that Jackson was 56 in 1992, while 'Curriculum vitae' and 'Loitering with intent' end when Spark was around 39 — although we'll never know.
For reasons I haven't uncovered yet, the release didn't make it into the trade publications she mentions, and as we know, the project never came to fruition. But a number of things are remarkable about this project. The first is that it is driven by Spark. We know that the success of her novels meant that the film and television industries would come calling, but this shows that she appears to be courting them. She reiterates this around the same time, saying 'I am enthusiastic about the idea'.
The second is that this again shows her actively promoting her own work, just as she did with the re-written short stories. The third is that it fits in with our now evolving understanding of her as an editor, or a re-cycler and re-editor of her work. We have to presume that she would have either written or collaborated on the screenplay, or at least held veto over it. Although 'Curriculum vitae' was recently released, the film would have meant a return to 1981's 'Loitering with intent', not to mention re-visiting her early life. Given that she has just done so for 'Curriculum vitae', this also suggests that Spark was determined to get the most out of all the material available to her.
We know that Spark's early novel 'Warrander Chase' — which the archive reveals started as a play, not a novel — made its way into 'Loitering with intent', and the material for a novel on the Romans in early Britain called 'Watling Street', was also recycled into 'Reality and dreams' 20 years later, additional evidence of a re-visiting, re-editing Spark.
Indeed, the archive shows that Spark's research on the Romans goes beyond Britain, and produces even more work beyond 'Reality and dreams' and 'Loitering with intent'. Watling Street was the name given to one of the main Roman roads which ran diagonally from the south-east of England, through London, and ending in north-east Wales. One manuscript piece that I particularly like is a series of loose-leaf notes from 1981 when Spark was visiting London, and she compiles a detailed list of all the shops and businesses lining the Edgware Road, the modern route of what was Watling Street. This research on the Romans then expands to Paris, and having been sent an excerpt from the 'Historical dictionary of Paris streets', Spark returns to this theme in the late 80s, with the result being her 1993 poem 'The Dark Music of the Rue du Cherche-Midi'. The connection being that the Rue du Cherche-Midi is another street built on top of an old Roman road, this time in Paris.
So as we can see, the archive allows us to see the narratives behind Spark's work as they unfold over decades; how the research undertaken in the 70s and 80s is still bearing creative results into the 90s. Again, further evidence of the re-cycling, re-visiting Spark.
And on 11 November 1993, in a revealing correspondence with Charles 'Chip' McGrath, the editor of 'The New Yorker' magazine (and who publish the poem), Spark says about 'The Dark Music': 'I feel it is my best'. So now we know folks, Spark's favourite of her own novels was 'The driver's seat', and it now seems that she considered 'The Dark Music of the Rue du Cherche-Midi' to be her best poem.
When I find out her favourite short story I'll let you know.
But returning briefly to the movie of her early life: as a fan, you can't help but wonder what the film would have been like. Who would have played the young Muriel, what more might we have learned about her years before she became famous? Imagine: Edinburgh in the 20s and 30s, the years in South Rhodesia before and during World War II, her return to Britain, Milton Bryan and the imitation German propaganda radio broadcasts during her time at the Foreign Office, the Helena Club, the Poetry Society, her first literary successes, and so on.
[image: Cheque stub]
How amazing would it have been to see this project being realised? For a writer who has been portrayed as intensely private, it's surprising that she even contemplated such an idea. Perhaps it would have solved some of the mysteries surrounding one of Scotland's best-loved writers, or perhaps — like her ghostly fictions — it may simply have deepened them.
When I think then, of the life Spark lived, of her journey around the globe from Edinburgh to South Rhodesia, to London, New York, Rome and Tuscany, I have visions of the poetic journey I mentioned earlier being part of the film: Dame Muriel like Indiana Jones, flying across the globe in an old propeller aeroplane, or sailing in a merchant-navy ship, with a wee red line plotting her route. Of course, Dame Muriel had way too much taste to agree to such a thing, but one can always dream.
[image: 'Thank you']
This is an incredibly exciting time for the National Library of Scotland. To have this archive gradually revealing its secrets, to be part of the celebrations to mark the centenary of Spark's birth on 1 February 2018, to be preparing an exhibition to celebrate this remarkable life, this remarkable writer, is a real privilege.
But I'd urge you to get involved, if you haven't already. Get up to the Special Collections Reading Room and consult this amazing material. It's a joy — you get the wonderfully personalising details of correspondence filled with comedy, empathy and humanity, and yes, moments of anger, but also of the daily routine of cat food, boiler repairs, fax machines, and leaky roofs. And the manuscripts of all the poems and stories I've been talking about. And you might also be the first person who finds the manuscript to the lost Spark novel, the unfinished classic, or a letter that reveals a moment of revelatory insight.
So ladies and gentlemen, to return from whence we came with some truly awful puns, I would encourage you to join me in becoming Sparkaeologists, Raiders of the Lost Spark. You don't need Steven Spielberg or Harrison Ford, or a hat — just a reader's card, a pencil — no pens — paper, and an appreciation for Muriel Spark; someone I think — and it's just my opinion — is Scotland's greatest modern writer. Thanks for listening.
Robert E Hosmer Jr., 'Muriel Spark: A glance through an open door'
Correction: It was not Spark's American agent who sends the script to Marlon Brando, but Lady Maria St Just (1921–1994), a friend of Spark, and latterly executor of the Tennessee Williams estate.