NLS Exhibition explores the life of Muriel Spark

NLS Exhibition explores the life of Muriel Spark

December 8, 2017

Style of Spark steps at NLS

Last night, beneath the eyes of Muriel Spark, the National Library of Scotland celebrated the launch of its new exhibition, The International Style of Muriel Spark.

National Librarian John Scally (NLS) opened the launch event, commenting on the way in which the exhibition is set to reveal facts about Muriel Spark that many people might not have known, and stated: ‘This is a chance to raise the profile of Muriel Spark as a writer, to move beyond The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and discover her other works, of which there are many.’

Also speaking about the importance of Spark as a writer, and of the exhibition, was Ian Rankin, Edinburgh’s own crime writer. About Spark, he said:

Author Ian Rankin on Muriel Spark

‘Why is she so successful? Because she was restless and experimental… it is time she is rightly recognised as one of our greatest ever writers, constantly inspired by Scotland and her upbringing in Edinburgh.’

The exhibition makes use of the many places she lived – Edinburgh, Rhodesia, London, New York, Rome and Tuscany – in order to explore her life, and follows the progression of her career as a writer, from her early days writing poetry at James Gillespie High School, to her international success.

‘The International Style of Muriel Spark’ exhibition opens today (8 December) and is set to run until 13 May 2018 at the National Library of Scotland, featuring items never previously seen by the public, most of which are from Spark’s personal archive held at the Library.

Some of the items on display are:

  • The portable typewriter she used for her poetry and reviews in the 1950s
  • Original examples of some of her earliest writing penned as a teenager in Edinburgh
  • A handwritten note from one of the world’s most famous women — Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis — offering to buy the worldwide rights to Spark’s auto-biography
  • Handbags and evening dresses worn by Spark along with invitations to glamorous events sent by presidents, royalty and leading socialites
  • Correspondence with some of the biggest names in 20th century literature including Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing, John Updike and Gore Vidal
  • Betting slips and correspondence relating to the racehorse she bought from the Queen
  • A note signed by film star Elizabeth Taylor telling Spark that Taylor and her husband Richard Burton are ‘great fans’
  • The ration book from her penniless days in post war London when she struggled to make her way as a writer
  • Dozens of covers of foreign translations of her books
  • Her mother’s brass plaque advertising piano lessons that hung outside the family flat in Bruntsfield in Edinburgh.

The exhibition has been put together by Dr Colin McIlroy, the Library’s Muriel Spark Project Curator, who has said:

What comes through strongly from correspondence in the archive is a picture of a generous, fun loving individual which is not how she has always been portrayed. She did fall out with people and she knew how to stand up for herself but she comes across as a much warmer and caring person than perhaps I was expecting. She kept friends for decades and she was fiercely loyal. I hope this exhibition helps people to get a better understanding of the person behind the books.

The exhibition is part of the year-long Muriel Spark 100 celebration, a period of activity created to honour the centenary. It is organised jointly by the National Library of Scotland and Creative Scotland, with a great number of events already planned, including, Polygon’s publication of new editions of all 22 of Spark’s novels, an international academic conference, and an evening of readings and storytelling in Edinburgh’s Usher Hall organised by the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

‘The International Style of Muriel Spark’ runs from 8 December to 13 May at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.