Secular Influences

  • Ruth Whittaker


The publication of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in 1961 brings a change of manner and emphasis in Mrs Spark’s work. This novel and its successor, The Girls of Slender Means (1963), are works of great authority. Their certainty of tone is similiar to that of Memento Mori, but they are motivated by a darker and more pessimistic vision. The action of her early novels was centred on the Roman Catholic faith, towards which her characters aspired. Later novels, however, lose their insistence on the force of the other world, and its positive place in the sometimes seedy realities of this one. Supernatural events no longer occur, and the revelation of the spiritual aspects of reality depends on our eliciting an oblique morality from the narrative without necessarily being given a specific creed from which to take our bearings. Mrs Spark concentrates on portraying evil as it is manifested through the actions of an individual, or through the godlessness of contemporary society, leaving it to the reader to postulate a moral system thus violated. We are given hints that Catholicism provides such a system, but it is no longer shown to be an enabling factor or a saving grace.


Scarlet Fever Specific Creed Country Parish Religious Site Burglar Alarm 
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  1. 2.
    Henry James, Preface to ‘The Tragic Muse’, in The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962) p. 84.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    A novelist concerned with the effect of these reforms is David Lodge. See The British Museum is Falling Down (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1965); and How Far Can You Go? (London: Secker & Warburg, 1980).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    Evelyn Waugh, quoted by Christopher Sykes in Evelyn Waugh: A Biography (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1977) p. 596. (First published London: Collins, 1975.)Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Stfren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling, trs. Walter Lowrie (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1941; repr. 1952) pp. 66–7.Google Scholar
  5. 13.
    François Mauriac, quoted by Robert Speaight in François Mauriac: A Study of the Writer and the Man (London: Chatto & Windus, 1976) pp. 193–4.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Whittaker 1982

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  • Ruth Whittaker

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