Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Friday, 21 August 2009 10:46 UK

Muriel Spark takes prime place

Muriel Spark
Muriel Spark was famously dismissive of biographers

The work of Scottish author Muriel Spark is enjoying a revival at Edinburgh's festivals.

There are two major productions of her novels on the Fringe and her biographer is appearing at the book festival.

The "volatile" novelist, most famous for her story of an Edinburgh teacher, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, died in 2006 at the age of 88.

Her most well-known work is being staged along with later novel, The Girls of Slender Means.

It is a complex story, told out of sequence and often in flashbacks, and it has taken several years of development to reach the stage.

And it is not just her work - but Spark herself who is in the spotlight this festival, as the first biography of her life is published.

She was famously dismissive of biographers and waited until the publication of her own memoir before allowing English professor Martin Stannard to take up her story.

Martin Stannard
I think she did have a lifelong anxiety about being betrayed
Prof Martin Stannard

Prof Stannard, professor of Modern English Literature at the University of Leicester, said: "I don't think it was until she had completed her own autobiography Curriculum Vitae in 1992 that she decided that she wanted somebody else to finish the job.

"She certainly grew bored with doing the research into her own life and she wanted to dedicate her final years to creation, to writing novels and short stories and poems rather than to writing autobiography."

Spark's own life was as colourful as any drama.

A violent husband, a child she had to leave behind and a constant struggle to earn money to survive, not to mention her own famously volatile personality.

Prof Stannard said: "This was problem a with Muriel throughout her life, people would say one thing and the person with whom she had been friendly for years would suddenly be under suspicion for some reason.

"I think she did have a lifelong anxiety about being betrayed."

But, Prof Stannard said, that sense of betrayal may have helped her create her greatest character - the Edinburgh schoolteacher Miss Jean Brodie.

Avant-garde novelist

The book - and later film - brought Muriel Spark much needed financial security as well as critical acclaim.

Her biographer described Muriel Spark's novels as "quite remarkable pieces of work".

He said: "Particularly the early ones which came in a huge flood.

"She did not start writing them until quite late and when she did she produced, in my view, one work of genius after another.

"From The Comforters, her first novel in 1957, through to Brodie and beyond that The Girls of Slender Means.

"She never ceased to intrigue people and maintain a fairly large readership. A very difficult thing to do for an avant-garde novelist."

Prof Stannard added: "For me, The Girls of Slender Means is an absolute masterpiece. Frank Kermode described it as a 'little miracle of a book'. I think that just about says it all.

"She says so much in so little space."

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