Structure and Style

  • Ruth Whittaker


The structure, style and content of a novel are, of course, inseparable, and this is particularly obvious in Mrs Spark’s work since she uses the novel form not merely to impose coherence but to express her perception of it. As I said in Chapter I, this is unusual for a twentieth-century writer, and it has to do with her religious beliefs. It is significant that Muriel Spark resisted writing a novel until after her conversion, which gave her a sense of unity: ‘from that time I began to see life as a whole rather than as a series of disconnected happenings’.1 This view is simultaneously that of an artist, who sees the possibility of imaginative sense from apparent randomness, and Mrs Spark seized on the connection she perceived between God’s unifying purpose and that of the novelist, and put it at the centre of her work. As a Christian, she sees nothing anachronistic about this. Rather, it acts as a highly economic device, since it enables her to employ the act of writing, and the novel form, not only as potent analogues in themselves, but also to reinforce at the same time what she has to say within the novel’s covers. In her view both God and the novelist create a world which they then people with characters simultaneously free and limited. Sometimes in real life characters fight back at an awareness of divine omniscience, and Mrs Spark includes in her plots a dynamic relationship between creator and characters.


Short Story Remembrance Service Chronological Time Stylistic Humour Witch Hazel 
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  1. 3.
    J. H. Newman, Letters, ed. Derek Stanford and Muriel Spark (London: Peter Owen, 1957) p.147.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Mircea Eliade, Myths, Dreams and Mysteries: The Encounter between Contemporary Faiths and Archaic Reality, trs. Philip Mairet (Glasgow: Collins, Fontana, 1968) p. 30. (First published 1960.)Google Scholar
  3. 22.
    Henk Meijer Romijn, ‘Het Satirische Talent van Muriel Spark’, Tirade, VI (1962) p. 162. I am grateful to Tony de Vletter for providing a translation of this article.Google Scholar
  4. 23.
    Henri Bergson, ‘Laughter’, in Comedy, ed. Wylie Sypher (New York: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956) p. 63.Google Scholar

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© Ruth Whittaker 1982

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  • Ruth Whittaker

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