"[A] virginal tongue hold": Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland and Muriel Spark's The Girls of Slender Means.
Hopkins had become a cult figure to writers of the 1930s, the so-called Auden generation--Christopher Isherwood, C. Day Lewis, Geoffrey Grigson, Herbert Read, Stephen Spender, William Empson, ER. Leavis, I.A. Richards, Robert Graves, and Michael Roberts. Auden recommended Hopkins to Spender:
He then told me who was good. These included Wilfred Owen, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Edward Thomas, A.E. Housman, and, of course, T.S. Eliot.... Auden derided most contemporary poets and admired few beyond those I have mentioned. He thought that the literary scene in general offered an empty stage. (Spender 50-51)
The attraction to Hopkins began in large measure with the November 1930 release of the second edition of his poetry with an introduction by Charles Williams. (3) That attraction continued through Muriel Spark, who also saw herself as an aesthete: "I think as an artist, I live as one" ("Desegregation" 33). Connected as they were through Newman--the via media to Roman Catholicism for both Hopkins and Spark--it remains enigmatic why Spark's relationship to Hopkins has escaped serious critical
attention, especially as pervasive as it is in Spark's The Girls of Slender Means (1963), "in some ways her best" novel and "one of her most distinguished books" (Kermode, "Girls" 174; Parrinder 25).
Critics such as Giorgio Melchiori and F.O. Matthiessen, in Geoffrey Hartman's Hopkins: A Collection of Critical Essays, connect Hopkins to Henry James and Walt Whitman, respectively. And in a monograph, Richard Giles pursues the Hopkins trace among modern writers such as Joyce, Eliot, Yeats, Pound, and Plath. Yet the case for Muriel Spark has been entirely overlooked. The Hopkins absence, at least in Giles's Hopkins among the Poets, is understandable, since the volume wanted to pursue Hopkins's "impact on twentieth-century poetry, and the speed and latitude with which his reputation spread" (Giles iv). Still, Spark's exclusion is problematic, not only because she is "one of the most important novelists of the twentieth century" (McQuillan 1), but also because she emerged in precisely the post-war "generation of poets" who "matured in the 1930s," influenced in one way or another by Hopkins.
Although she considers the "question of inspiration" a "strange" one, Spark acknowledges Newman as "a tremendous influence" who "helped me to find a definite location" ("My Conversion" 59). (4) The Newman influence is evident in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) and Curriculum Vitae (1993), the latter her fictional Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Spark's search for her own voice became inextricably tied to her conversion to Roman Catholicism: to speak "far more in my own voice as a Catholic" ("My Conversion" 61). In effect, her Catholicism authorized her, as it had Newman, who wanted his Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864) to be a text in which the real man (the Catholic Newman) becomes liberated from his apparition (the Anglican Newman), a personal and religio-political split that had to be acknowledged, treated, and finally put to rest. (5) However, Spark made no claim to Hopkins, admitting only that she "read an awful lot of poetry," and that "It is impossible to know how much one gets from one's early environment" ("My Conversion" 62; "Edinburgh-born" 22). The Hopkins silence in Spark is neither surprising nor unusual; one's most dominant precursors are seldom if ever acknowledged. This essay, then, traces Hopkins's influence on Muriel Spark, and in particular the way his epic/elegiac tour de force, The Wreck of the Deutschland, informs Spark's own mock epic/elegiac The Girls of Slender Means.
FUNDAMENTALLY a poet (Stanford 77), but known best through her novels--Memento Mori (1959), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961), and Loitering with Intent (1981)--Muriel Spark was born in 1918 and came of age as a poet in the late 1930s. In 1953, she was baptized into the Anglican Church and began, with Derek Stanford, to read Newman. One year later she was received into the Catholic Church at The Church of the Immaculate Conception in Farm Street, Mayfair, where from July to November 1878 Hopkins had served as acting curate. Spark and Stanford collaborated on several literary projects, including an edition of The Letters of John Henry Newman in 1957, the same year she published The Comforters (based loosely on The Book of Job)--a "novel about writing a novel" (Kermode, "House of Fiction" 79). Spark's move from poetry to the novel, which she considered an inferior art form, coincided with her conversion to Roman Catholicism, the "nevertheless principle" on which "much of my literary composition is based" ("Edinburgh-born" 22). Spark adapted or revised her conversion experience to make it accord with Newman's and Hopkins's. She, like they, was an early Romantic, found Anglo-Catholicism a safe refuge from Anglicanism or atheism, experienced a physical or emotional breakdown coincident with conversion, and discovered her real voice upon converting. Again like Newman and Hopkins, Spark saw the celibate life congruent to the religious/aesthetic vocation and the material as fundamental to one's religious epistemic. Finally, conversion for Spark, as it was for Newman and Hopkins, became an ordering code, a way to manage and stabilize unpredictable perturbations.
Indebted to Shakespeare, Blake, Coleridge, Arnold, Hopkins, and Dylan Thomas, and in less conspicuous ways to Chaucer, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, and Joyce, Girls is preeminently about the state of post-war poets, poetry, and the overall literary milieu. The chief theme or motif of Spark's novels, according to Malcolm Bradbury, is an abiding curiosity about "the relation of an author to a fiction and its agents" (248). Girls reflects Spark's satirization of poetry and disillusionment with literature, her belief that literature to most people has no abiding value. Drawing from Spark's experience as editor of the Poetry Review, Girls parodies any number of things connected to the publishing industry: young men who became poets "by virtue of the fact that the composition of poetry was the only consistent thing they had so far done," and who "talked about the new future as they flicked the page-proofs of an absent friend's novel" (Girls 19). The novel ridicules "young male poets in corduroy trousers and young female poets with waist-length hair, or at least females who typed the poetry and slept with the poets," the meager livelihood of poetry, which affords only "a pair of luxurious pigskin gloves," and poets who "seemed to understand each other with a secret instinct" (Girls 61-62). Finally, Spark denounces the scurrilous habits of publishers and the autograph industry, such as Charles Morgan's spurious letter hyping the genius quality of the much rejected The Sabbath Notebook. But like so much in Spark, Girls undercuts this surface cynicism, becoming in her words "parabolic."
The novel is set in the poverty and disrepair of the Kensington district of post-war London (1940-45) amidst "bomb-sites" and "bomb-ripped buildings." The setting for that "year of final reckoning" (Girls 8) overshadows the imminent explosion of "Greggie's bomb" that ends the novel. It imagines an even more horrific apocalypse with the invention of "this new bomb" (the Atom Bomb), which leaves one "breathless with horror" (Girls 134). Spark's main characters are Nicholas Farringdon and Joanna Childe, the one, Joanna, instrumental to the conversion of the other, Nicholas. Joanna's poetic selections are decidedly apocalyptic, reflecting the post-war setting of the novel, the personal lifestyles of the characters, the focus throughout on anarchism (itself a modernist response to the apocalypse), and the prevailing sensibility. There is a keen sense that "The sun [will not break] through as the forecast had promised" (Girls 81). Joanna's recitation incorporates familiar apocalyptic texts: Marvell's "Coy Mistress," Blake's "The Sun-Flower," Coleridge's "Kubla Khan," Arnold's "Dover Beach," and Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland. "The Sun-Flower," "weary of time," counts "the steps of the Sun." Like Blake's sunflower, Joanna wants us to "Think of a sweet golden clime" (Girls 56), to contemplate either an unchanging earthly paradise, or perhaps Jacob's vision of a golden ladder winding from earth to heaven. Indeed, everywhere Girls sounds the familiar apocalyptic tone: "Mind the windows. Keep away from the windows. Watch out for the glass" (Girls 8; emphasis added).
Spark's novels are what Bradbury calls "end-directed." As such, they open "on the end of finality" (249-50). Girls commences and concludes with the temporal frame, couched as a fairy-tale trope--"Long ago in 1945." Spark's fairy-tale frame, however, instead of suggesting the presumed unreality of events, points, instead, to their universality. This is no "microcosmic ideal society" (Girls 65) that Nicholas Farringdon wishfully imagines, for the fairy-tale opening is immediately set in relief by the sublime though real landscape of a blitzed Kensington neighborhood. Less about conversion than about debunking illusions, Girls and its many absurdities undermine utopian ideals. Spark is "resolute in destroying utopian illusions and romantic only in the extent of her negations" (Parrinder 76). "Fiction to me," she once remarked, "is a kind of parable. You've got to make up your mind it's not true. Some kind of truth emerges from it, but it's not fact" ("My Conversion" 63). Spark sees this parabolic, mimetic convention especially suited to her generation and epoch: "the rhetoric of our times should persuade us to contemplate the ridiculous nature of the reality before us, and teach us to mock it. We should know ourselves better by now than to be under the illusions that we are all essentially aspiring, affectionate, and loving creatures." For her, liberating the mind from utopian ideals is the very nature of the desegregation of art: "To bring about a mental environment of honesty and self-knowledge, a sense of the absurd and a general looking-lively to defend ourselves from the ridiculous oppression of our time" ("Desegregation," 36-37). Girls stages this surrealistic, albeit parabolic, fantasy. (6)
Self-conscious as Spark is about the craft of fiction, the novel sets itself up as a kind of post-modernist drama. The dilapidated buildings with walls missing serve as the props of a "stage," and the staircases that survived function as "a new art-form," all making "unusual demands on the mind's eye" (Girls 7). (7) The events in the novel, but for the reporting of Nicholas's death in Haiti, and the VJ celebrations that close the novel, occur within Spark's typically "closed and allegorical" community of women (Parrinder 28), (8) the May of Teck, a hostel for "the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London" (Girls 9). (9) Although having escaped a direct hit, the May of Teck had its windows shattered three times since 1940, and so reflected the prolonged war-time disrepair and dilapidation. An unexploded bomb, which everyone but Greggie dismisses, and "emblem of all Spark's myths of the female community in history" (Auerbach 176), lies buried in the pastoral garden, a reminder of the precarious and paradoxical existence of life in the context of war. The inmates of the May of Teck, because of the stiff competition for men exacerbated by the war, are obsessed with dietary concerns, ironic given the post-war austerities. All but calorie counting Jane, who furtively squirrels away bits of chocolate, wanted to fit into Anne Baberton's striking Schiaparelli dress, shared by "the most attractive, sophisticated and lively" girls on the fourth floor (Girls 30). The dress had effectively become community property of all five women and circulated among them not-always freely. Made of taffeta, with small side panniers stuck out with cleverly curved pads over the hips, it was colored dark blue, green, orange and white in a floral pattern, as though from the Pacific Islands (Girls 89).
Unlike the Sapphic community in Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland--intact, utopic, nurturing, salvific--Spark's forty odd "pretty" and "bossy" women at the May of Teck were hardly what one might call a community, "savage" and predatory as they are. The May of Teck manifests an absence of "cooperative communion," for such communities are "not pastoral alternatives to a world at war but symbols of it" (Auerbach 168-69, 177). Whether trading material goods, money, sex, or information, the girls are all involved in some form of traffic. Like their attractive garden, "their beautiful aspects of poverty and charm" (Girls 61) mask an underlying destructive disposition; safety, like beauty, is only a "pastoral veneer," the novel's "subtlest joke" (Auerbach 183). "Spark's dishonest, disloyal communities" of women, often employed as symbol of a world at war, a dystopia, and a "parable" of "a fascist state," are "Rife with egoism and backbiting," which manifest "the only saving remnants the twentieth century can accommodate." Her community is no female enclave, no "Herland," a "nurturing female world" there to check "male militarism while remaining pure of its violence and hunger for power" (Auerbach 169, 173, 177, 184). Rather, Spark's community accords well with the view that "all groups, communions and institutions are false and more or less corrupting except the one that is founded on the truths of Christian orthodoxy--and even that one is not particularly attractive or virtuous" (Lodge 135).
Girls is entirely plotless. Spark focuses on the superficial ("slender") lives of the girls, on their obsession, that is, with love and money. According to Bradbury, "the curious inescapability of plot is her subject" (250). Spark not only resists plot, but ridicules "plot-formation" (Girls 38), assigning the sordid publisher George Johnson multiple identities--Huy, Con, Arthur, Jimmie--all pointing to his duplicitous character and profiteering schemes. Instead of plot, we have the makings of a conversion or seduction narrative. Holding events together thematically and structurally are lines of poetry, especially Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland. "The most arresting aspect of this novel," as Jay L. Halio points out, "is the way poetry interleaves through it ... highlighting and commenting upon both the characters and the action" in a way "never before or since as fully or effectively" (272). While Joanna is impressed by the Book of Common Prayer, Shakespeare, Coleridge, and Dylan Thomas, she is most at home with The Wreck of the Deutschland, which showed her how to apply "a metaphysical manner to a narrative matter" (Bold 85). (10) Greggie's bomb finally detonates, severing a gas main and setting the May of Teck on fire. In the mille, all but Joanna escape, a parallel to Hopkins's tall nun, and the last resident to exit through the skylight. Joanna is "meek, accepting, and entirely unselfish," and because of "her endless capacity for self-sacrifice she is emotionally destroyed long before the fire kills her" (Whittaker 69).
The slim, sultry, and seductive Selina, who routinely trades sex for inordinate supplies of soap and sweet coupons, reenters the burning building to retrieve the Schiaparelli dress. (11) Horrified, the bohemian Nicholas unconsciously makes the sign of the cross, which begins his path to conversion, the priesthood, and subsequent martyrdom in Haiti--"the portrait of the martyr as a young man" (Girls 19, 59). But whereas Selina's narcissistic impulse reminds Nicholas of the reality of a hell, Joanna's selflessness and intercessory role effect his conversion, but a conversion that is merely hearsay, hinted at during a phone conversation interrupted by static. (12) Not thinking "of myself as a Catholic when I'm writing" ("My Conversion" 60), Spark presents Christianity, and especially Roman Catholicism, obliquely, what Whittaker sees as her "unified" faith "left largely to the reader to supply" (69).
Girls and its closest precursor, The Wreck of the Deutschland, which "echoes the theme of the novel" (Whittaker 68), and from which familiar words make their way into the Spark text ("rose," "shipwrack," and "shroud," to name but three), share a similar process to religious conversion, public indifference to personal disaster, and the martyr theme. Like the communication glitches in The Wreck of the Deutschland that compromised safety, so also in Spark there is a communication breakdown. Haiti is confused with Tahiti--one a space of political intrigue, danger, and death, the other, presumably, site of pastoral repose. In the Hopkins analogy, Haiti is the mouth of the Thames and the shipwreck, Tahiti St. Beuno's, north Wales and a site of pastoral ease. So important is The Wreck of the Deutschland to the structure of Girls that even Harwich, the seaport censured for failing to facilitate a lifeboat to effect rescue, reappears in Girls, now a port where a consignment of obscene books intended for the polymorphous publisher George Johnson was seized and burnt. Harwich is again connected to the demise of innocence.
THE "very High Church" religious convert and daughter of a country rector, Joanna Childe is a student of drama and elocution, lover of poetry, and "marvelous with Hopkins." Admired by almost everyone, the twenty-three year old Joanna is described as "a handsome bright-cheeked fair-haired girl" (Girls 78), a Madonna figure ("no men-friends") who, had she known the world, "would not be proclaiming these words so sexually and matriarchally" (Girls 86). Joanna is drawn especially to "the declamatory sort" of poetry that "excited and possessed her; she would pounce on the stuff, play with it quivering in her mind, and when she had got it by heart, she spoke it forth with devouring relish." Her aesthetic has a cumulative effect on the Club, adding "tone and style to the establishment." Her declaiming voice, quoting poetry at "conversational pitch" (Girls 11-12), consistent with Hopkins's speech-based poetics, pervades the house, coming from "up there" and from "the ground floor" (Girls 79). "My verse," Hopkins reminded a skeptical Bridges, "is less to be read than heard, as I have told you before; it is oratorical." Important to the oratorical is an emphasis on recitation and the performative: "above all remember what applies to all my verse, that it is, as living art should be, made for performance and that its performance is not reading with the eye but loud, leisurely, poetical (not rhetorical) recitation" (Letters to Bridges 46, 246). Hopkins's younger sister, Grace, recalled his dramatic reading of "The Caged Skylark," "repeating the Skylark to us beating with his hand to mark the measure" (Nixon 296). Hopkins told Dixon that his poems are "meant for, and cannot properly be taken in without, emphatic recitation; which nevertheless is not an easy performance" (Correspondence 153). Hopkins rediscovered this effect while reciting "The Loss of the Eurydice." Here he sensed not only a new appreciation of the poem but discovered aspects he had earlier missed: "it struck me aghast with a kind of raw nakedness and unmitigated violence I was unprepared for: but take breath and read it with the ears," he instructed Bridges, "as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right" (Letters to Bridges 79). Hopkins's November 5, 1885, letter to his brother Everard offered his most salient and illustrative commentary on his theory of oratorical/performative verse:
I am sweetly soothed by your saying that you cd. make any one understand my poem by reciting it well. That is what I always hoped, thought, and said; it is my precise aim.... Every art then and every work of art has its own play or performance. The play or performance of a stageplay is the playing it on the boards, the stage: reading it, much more writing it, is not its performance. The performance of a symphony is not the scoring it however elaborately; it is in the concert room, by the orchestra, and then and there only. A picture is performed, or performs, when anyone looks at it in the proper and intended light. A house performs when it is now built and lived in. To come nearer: books play, perform, or are played and performed when they are read; and ordinarily by one reader, alone, to himself, with the eyes only.... Poetry was originally meant for either singing or reciting.... As poetry is emphatically speech, speech purged of dross like the gold in the furnace, so it must have emphatically the essential elements of speech. (Selected Letters 217-218).
Much of what Hopkins says here is consistent with his Scotist assumptions, that things realize their essence when they fulfill their beatific roles, when, in the words of "As kingfishers catch fire," "Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells," when each thing "Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is": "kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame." According to Hopkins, this is the very play of the Incarnation: "That is Christ playing at me and me playing at Christ, only that it is no play but truth; That is Christ being me and me being Christ" (Sermons 154).
Joanna's passion for poetry leads Nicholas to consider it "orgiastical": "Poetry takes the place of sex for her" (Girls 80), which for a skeptical Greggie is inadequate compensation: "The Beatific Vision does not appear to me to be an adequate compensation for what we miss" (Girls 105). Negotiating these two callings, "Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony" (Spark, The Bachelors), and like Spark herself with "A polite reticence about sex ... often mistaken for repression" ("Edinburgh-born" 22), Joanna took up poetry as a "full-time occupation" in the wake of a failed romance: "The sensation of poetry replaced the sensation of the curate" (Girls 25). Forfeiting relational love, she renounces sex, the very compromise Spark herself made in her own literary vocation: "It's a bit of a nuisance not being able to have a sex life if you are not married, but it has its advantages if you have a vocation, a mind obsessed with a certain subject or a job to do in life" ("My Conversion" 61). Hopkins answered for Spark this sexual/vocational conundrum: "Feeling, love in particular, is the great moving power and spring of verse," he wrote to Bridges, "and the only person that I am in love with seldom, especially now, stirs my heart sensibly" (whether Christ and/or the recollection of Digby Dolben, now that Hopkins is back at Oxford). Not to love would be "a sacrilege" (Letters to Bridges 66). For Anglo-Catholics such as Newman, Hopkins, and Spark, poetry became "the refuge of those who have not the Catholic Church to flee to and repose upon, for the Church herself is the most sacred and august of poets" (Newman, "John Keble" 442). For Spark's Joanna, "ideas of honour and love came from the poets" (Girls 22).
Poetry, for Hopkins, is sexual discourse, performative, "masterly execution" he called it, the "begetting one's thought on paper, on verse, on whatever the matter is"; it is a "kind of male gift" that "especially marks off men from women" (Correspondence 133). His own playfulness with poetry and desire to suppress it in obedience to his Jesuit calling amount to a kind of masturbatory occupation, an orgy, however much he endorsed poetry's social, religious, and political usefulness. Hopkins's struggle, a well known one, was a struggle with poetry and utility, framed largely in religio-political terms: "a good deal done for the Catholic Church and another for England, for the British Empire" (Further Letters 366). For him, English poetry ought to be nationalistic, the familiar nineteenth-century marriage of art and Empire: "A great work by an Englishman is like a great battle won by England.... It will even be admired by and praised by and do good to those who hate England.... It is then even a patriotic duty" (Letters to Bridges 231), a "great power in the world, an element of strength even to an empire" (Further Letters 368). (13) Although desiring a natural reception of his poetry, Hopkins destroyed those early creations--"backward glances"--when "I saw they wd. interfere with my state and vocation." He resisted publication, "the want of fame as a poet," "until all circumstances favour" (Letters to Bridges 24; Correspondence 28, 88). He desired, Hopkins told Alexander Baillie, "to write still and as a priest I very likely can do that too ... but no doubt what wd. [sic] best serve the cause of my religion" (Further Letters 231). Even when priestly duties stymied composition--"the duties almost of my position" in conflict with "the luxuries like poetry"--he still considers it a worthwhile sacrifice "for the kingdom of heaven's sake" (Letters to Bridges 270).
SPARK approached literary fame, with similar misgivings, wanting--she would write in her poem, 'Against the Transcendentalists"--to "reserve / The right not to try to / Fulfil the wilderness or fly to / Empyreal vacuity with an eye to / Publication." But Spark never quite saw literature in such solipsistic ways. A self-declared "exile in heart and mind" ("Edinburgh-born" 21), Spark identified with indigenous groups, the poor, the disenfranchised, and the disinherited. Her poetics, informed by a theory of differences, imagines a broader audience--les autres.
Joanna's favorite tomes are Christian ones--the authorized version of the Bible, especially the Psalms, and the Book of Common Prayer (which she knew by heart). The collection extends to a series of apocryphal texts: Shakespeare, Hopkins, Dylan Thomas. Her least favorites are Eliot and Auden. But Joanna's interest in literature is hardly superficial. She quotes passages, we are told, for their "aptitude" (Girls 12): "words for the right day was Joanna's habit" (Girls 128). For Spark, there is a decided if unclear subtext behind the passages Joanna "recites from memory" (Girls 11). The "choice of poetry for her elocution lesson is significant," acting "as a commentary on the plot--sometimes ironic, sometime prophetic" (Whittaker 66). And Joanna's recall of verse is "never more appropriate[ly] ... than when she recites lines from Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland" (Halio 272). For Hopkins, similarly, "lines and stanzas should be left in the memory and superficial impressions deepened" (Letters to Bridges 50).
Joanna is portrayed as a prophet, a Miriam, "the sweet singer of Israel" (Girls 83), whom women poets and novelists invoke as a prophetic equal and counterpart to Aaron and Moses. In an illuminating study of the impress of the Hebraic on Victorian poetry, Cynthia Scheinhberg has shown that Jewish heroines became "a role model for women's poetry." Miriam, in particular, is "represented as a powerful player in that central moment in Jewish political and divine history." Her lyric inaugurates "the 'holy' birth of poetry ... even as it functions as a didactic prophecy about the future of all 'Bright Poesy.' Miriam thus symbolizes an idealized female poetic identity who has a direct relationship to God" (Scheinhberg 270-71). For Joanna, messenger and message are inextricably linked. A Cassandra figure, Joanna, like Hopkins's tall nun, becomes inseparable from the very prophecy she foretells. Her prophetic utterances, whether she is conscious of them or not, cannot be fulfilled unless the events she predicts become her story, her fate. And so she goes down with the ship whose demise she had forewarned. Like Cassandra, Hopkins's tall nun and Spark's Joanna are proclaiming statues, predicting future catastrophic events in which they are involved but concerning which they remain oblivious.
Joanna's recitation of The Wreck of the Deutschland impresses everyone, especially Nicholas, who envisions her as "a proclaiming statue" (Girls 87). In an attempt to memorialize the occasion, he borrows a tape-recorder and convinces Joanna to do a "special recital." On the evening of the performance, Joanna appears to Nicholas as Hopkins's tall, stately nun ("big bones"), heroic, even epical ("very splendid and Nordic, as from a great saga" [Girls 102]). A series of catastrophic events climaxes the novel. Tilly gets stuck in the narrow slit in the window while attempting to relive her school-days; and "Greggie's bomb" suddenly explodes in the garden, rupturing the gas-main. Escaping gas becomes a fuse for a fire that soon spreads throughout the house. Total collapse of the fire-escape traps some of the girls, and the house finally implodes, the ultimate "destruction of woman's world as a haven of separate, cherished values" (Auerbach 182).
Spark's post-war London ventures on the absurd. An undetonated bomb lies buried in a peaceful garden; the bomb-disposal squad fails to detect a live bomb; the fire escape conveniently collapses; and the warden becomes the first victim. The absurdity continues. Girls of slender means are not slender enough to make a hasty escape; fire-safety regulations are taken seriously by everyone but the one who makes the easiest exit; and a man is martyred for attempting to eradicate the very thing (superstition) his faith has historically been accused of embracing. Spark believes that "we have come to a moment in history when we are surrounded on all sides and oppressed by the absurd" ("Desegregation" 36). But however much Spark's characters embrace boredom, despair, nihilism, and solipsism, her universe never quite succumbs to an absurdist ideology. Her attraction to the "absurd," which to her is synonymous with the "real," was a reaction against sentimentalism, a "segregated activity," which she abhors. The "special calling" of art and literature should produce "a mental environment of honesty and self-knowledge" ("Desegregation" 36-37). Spark's rejection of realism stems from her sense that "the bizarre nature of twentieth-century life is beyond the compass of realist conventions." Her novels, influenced by the noveau roman of Robbe-Grillet and Marguerite Duras with its "redefinition [rather than rejection] of realism," are rescued from plunging into absurdity by "a world which encompasses possibilities of faith and redemption" (Whittaker 6, 9). The absurd in Spark is replaced by the efficacy of religion. Her paradox, says Ruth Whittaker, is "the absurdity of human behaviour in the context of a divine purpose." As in The Wreck of the Deutschland, "there is no attempt to rationalize or to explain the catastrophe, nor ... any apparent justice which might act as its own commentary on preceding events" (27, 69).
Girls turns "on the act of conversion ... on the acceptance of the reality of religious truth as the only possible explanation of the mysteries of life and as the surest guard against despair" (Massie 102). Spark's "satiric vision," the "informing principle" of her work, is "contingent upon her theology" (Randisi 132-33). Writing satire is of a piece with her conversion to Catholicism: "my conversion gave me something to work on as a satirist." Her satire is written within the context of a very confident theology and belief in divine superintendence of cosmic events: "I'm a great believer in providence. I believe that things work out providentially in a way" ("My Conversion" 60, 63). This is the proleptic Spark who, like the novelist or the God in her novels, hardly indifferent paring his fingernails, proleptically admits providential design--the novelist/God sees and controls everything. In fact, Spark's postmodernism allows for the intervention of the supernatural. But this kind of reading is fraught with significant twists and turns in Spark--a "maze" is how Lodge, following Graham Greene, calls it (122). Hopkins's attempt to understand the enigma of God's paradoxical providence is wrought with similar conviction and confusion: "Wording it how but by him that present and past,/Heaven and earth are word of, worded by." Hopkins can occasionally and only briefly "feel [God's] finger and find thee," "greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand," and "Grasp God, throned behind/Death with a sovereignty that heed but hides, bodes but abides." Spark's sense of the divine in things, similarly, "remains ultimately mysterious and incomprehensible because the world is a fallen one and not even the novelist can claim to understand it fully" (Lodge 122).
Spark's language describing the climax of events in Girls employs marine metaphors, as of a ship going down: "The house sank into its centre, a high heap of rubble, and Joanna went with it" (Girls 130). Events leading up to Joanna's death follow closely those surrounding Hopkins's tall nun. Joanna remained calm facing impending death, as did Hopkins's nun who, despite the raging storm ("Through the cobbled foam-fleece ... With the burl of the fountain of air"), stood resolute, and so is troped as lighthouse or lightship. The tall nun is likened to Simon Peter, an impregnable figure (Petros--rock; "Tarpeian-fast") who, taking to the "blast," stays afloat only momentarily, "a blown beacon of light." Hopkins perhaps does not intend to suggest that her light is exterminated, "blown," but only that she is buffeted about as lighthouse or lightship. Through Christ, the "Orion of light," the tall nun, "a lioness," is able to face the "roaring" storm and, as though from a resurrected state, "arose" "breasting the babble." Her height, a full six feet we are told, is employed to portray her as a lighthouse, a tower, able above the storm to relay uncorrupted signals.
Joanna's scientific "ritual" to measure the girls so that they can safely exit the burning building provided a similar "slightly calming distraction." She became the central figure around whom the frightened girls "huddled, trembling and silent" (Girls 123, 125). As such, she resembles Hopkins's tall nun:
Finger of a tender of, O of a feathery delicacy, the breast of the Maiden could obey so, be a bell to, ring of it, and Startle the poor sheep back! Is the shipwrack then a harvest, does Tempest carry the grain for them?
Fronting the imminent destruction, Joanna stood impregnable, "mechanically reciting the evening psalter of Day 27, responses and answers.... As if hypnotized, they surrounded Joanna, and she herself stood as one hypnotized into the strange utterances of Day 27 in the Anglican order" (Girls 126). The psalter Joanna recites, the evening prayer for Day 27, incorporates Psalm 126, the In convertendo, and Psalm 127, Nisi Dominus, which, Spark believes, apply not just to the immediate stress or the approaching death: "so he giveth his beloved sleep" The psalm responds as well to "all sorts and conditions of human life in the world at that particular moment," whether human indifference (local as well as universal), personal business concerns, a newly constituted Labor Government, social liberationist movements, escape from disasters, or the personal enjoyment of fun fairs.
The disaster at the May of Teck results in a series of life-altering, heroic events and, in Nicholas's and Joanna's cases, conversion/transformation. "What follows the bomb blast and fire at the May of Teck Club ... is transfiguration" (Hart 32). Transformed into the image of a bright light (Sun/Son), Joanna began to recite the Psalms, her virginal tongue told: "The versicles and responses came from her lips and tongue through the din and demolition" (Girls 126-27). Gareth Dobbel's preempted lecture ("This is a time that calls for the exercise of discretion, the woman's prerogative") anticipates Joanna's messianic role, preparing the way for her heroic intervention. Joanna even had premonitions of her own death ("I daresay I'll die here"), which Nicholas, in a curious parallel of sorts, rightly associates with marriage ("You'll get married"), the two connected inextricably in Christian theology, especially Christian eschatology. Facing imminent death, Joanna recites the evening plaster (Psalm 126 and 127), at once Psalms of descent and ascent, death and resurrection, and closest in character to Psalm 130, the arch De Profundis: "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord." (14) Troped as a nun from the many references to her "habit," Joanna gave "the last shriek, and then shouted: 'The fire-escape'" (Girls 119). She is in this very sense the "proclaiming statue" (Girls 87) that is Hopkins's tall nun:
Sister, a calling A master, her master and mine!-- And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling; The rash smart sloggering brine Blinds her; but she that weather sees one thing, one; Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine Ears, and the call of the tall nun To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm's brawling.
Joanna's "recitation in the face of disaster is analogous to the nun's praying in the sinking ship." Like Hopkins's tall nun, "she too represents the apparently pointless waste of life and innocence" endemic to a world where such tragedies are in apparent conflict with "the idea of a loving and caring God" (Whittaker 68). Her words are intended for others as much as they are for herself. And so Joanna quietly accepts her cup of suffering:
Why, and with what intention, was she moved to indulge in this? She remembered the words, and she had the long habit of recitation. But why, in this predicament and as if to an audience? ... The other girls, automatically listening to Joanna's voice as they had always done, were possibly less frantic and trembled less, because of it, but they turned their ears more fearfully and attentively to the meaning of the skylight noises than they did to the actual meaning of her words for Day 27. (Girls 128)
Defeat and victory are problematic concepts in both Hopkins and Spark, problematic because of God's "double-natured name," God's apparent contradictory identities and roles: fastened/unmade; lightning/love; winter/warm; Mastery/mercy; martyr/master; Death/Breath; recurb/recovery; girth/wharf. Hopkins queried whether the shipwreck was in fact a "harvest," and the storms the "grain." Is God ubiquitously superintending events? Is he, that is, "ruler over land and sea?" The "double a desperate name" of the poem's title (Deutschland) also interrogates the familiar tropes of safety (land) and disaster (sea). The May of Teck, then, is Spark's Deutschland. Joanna Childe's "rhetoric" permeates the house, "beating out the stresses and throbs of 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'" (Girls 21). With the resolute singlemindedness of Hopkins's tall nun ("she that weathers sees one thing, one;/Has one fetch in her"; "Ah! there was heart right!/There was single eye!"), Joanna committed herself to one affection, falling in love with the Church after the disappointment of human affections.
As apocalyptic texts about "wastelandism" (Kermode), The Wreck of the Deutschland and The Girls of Slender Means engage the "question of time" (Girls 117). Rescue effort, whether on the Deutschland, or at the May of Teck, was a question of time, which, due to imminent danger and tedious progress of rescue, seems stopped. "The moments we call crises"--events that cause us to think about the moment--"are ends and beginnings" (Kermode, Sense of an Ending 96, 101). The apocalyptic theme structures The Wreck of the Deutschland, with its winnowing/harvesting imagery, its expressed desires for an imminent return, and its many references to "come" and "coming," the apocalyptic trace. An apocalyptic figure who experiences apocalyptic climax, the ultimate orgasmic event ("O Christ, Christ, come quickly"), the tall nun cries the "keener to come at the comfort for feeling the comforting keen," christening "her wild-worst Best." Modern apocalyptic thinking reflects "the modern sense of crisis," which is "inescapably a central element in our endeavours towards making sense of our world" (Kermode, Sense of an Ending 93-94).
Time was a crucial factor discussed during the inquest into the Deutschland disaster. Disquieting to most observers was why "with a big steamer stranded in such a beaten track, in easy reach of passing vessels, and within signaling distance of three lightships--the Kentish Knock, the Sunk, and the Cork lightships--thirty hours should have elapsed before they were rescued" (Weyand 365). Time is also a major structural, thematic, and technical aspect of Spark's fiction. She exhibits, says Halio, a "virtuoso capability in her handling of time" (271). From the opening of the novel ("Long ago in 1945," and similarly the ending, "long ago in 1945"), the clock begins to tick (as does the bomb), and does not stop ticking till the very end, with "extraordinarily daring time-shifts backwards and forwards across the chronological span of the action" (Lodge 122). From the explosion to the final collapse of the May of Teck Club, Spark attends to the question of time: "Time was not a large or present fact to those girls"; "Time, which was an immediate onward-rushing enemy to the onlookers in the street"; "The question of time opened now as a large thing in the lives of the eleven listeners" (Girls 117-21). Efforts to open the skylight were painstakingly slow. Despite Nicholas's premonitions of an imminent rescue, invoking the apocalyptic tone, a male prerogative--"come," "They won't be long. The men are coming now"--rescue did not come on time.
Girls concludes with a rare visit to London by Joanna's father. He had gone there for the funeral and to find out first hand how his daughter lived and died. Narrating Joanna's story, Nicholas was determined to play back the tape-recording of her reciting The Wreck of the Deutschland to her father, "partly with an urge to impart his last impressions of Joanna, partly from curiosity, partly, too, from a desire to stage a dramatic play-back of Joanna doing The Wreck of the Deutschland" (Girls 131). But the tape had been deliberately erased because of the austerities of the war, and indicative perhaps of Spark's view that "Poets are a meagre species" ("Against the Transcendentalists"). Detached from his daughter's religious and vocational life, and sharing in the guilt of Longfellow's vanquished captain who also could not save his little blue-eyed daughter from a noreaster and subsequent shipwreck, Rector Childe confused The Wreck of the Deutschland with Longfellow's The Wreck of the Hesperus. He was convinced that Joanna's coming to London "was a mistake" (Girls 134), her departure from the country, her "turning away" from the rectory, a form of paternal rejection.
Spark reworks Hopkins's conversion narrative, leading the woman, Joanna, to a transfiguration and the man, Nicholas, to a religious conversion experience. Nicholas's conversion comes through two visions, one of hell and the other of heaven, both offered by women. To begin with, Nicholas is a living contradiction, a man "prominently torn between apparent opposites" (Hynes, Art of the Real 61). A Cambridge educated poet, Nicholas is a pacifist who joins the army, a lover of both women and men, a person of faith who contemplates suicide, an anarchist and a monarchist, and someone who values privacy but desires community. He became a frequent visitor to the May of Teck Club in the last year of the Second World War, and was professionally connected to Jane, spiritually drawn to Joanna, and sexually attracted to Selina. He and the slender Selina, who embodies the values of the May of Teck Club, enjoyed many sexual trysts on the roof of the May of Teck. But even though romantically involved with the materialist Selina, Nicholas remained curious about religion, evident in The Sabbath Notebooks, which, Jane detected, "smells religious." Addressing as it were the neglected issue of grace, that "the world has fallen from grace" and so must turn to politicians to fill the spiritual vacuum, the book takes its epigraphy from the biblical injunction: "The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath" (Girls 54).
Before the war, Jane had predicted, accurately as it turns out, that Nicholas would "finish up as a reactionary Catholic, to obey the Pope" (Girls 48). After fighting and getting injured at Dunkirk, recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, serving a term in the Intelligence, and experimenting with bisexuality, Nicholas, the "disappointing son of a good English family" (Girls 52), converted to Roman Catholicism and became a priest and missionary to Haiti where he would be martyred for his faith, killed, we are told, for publicly criticizing local Haitian superstition. In the word "order," Nicholas's death is linked--ironically with the disaster at the May of Teck. His becoming a priest and joining the "Order"--conceived as a form of insanity ("Something must have affected his brain")--contributed to his effort to eradicate Haitian superstition--the "kind of fossil leftover of the ancestral world from before Rome's supremacy." (15) Even "someone's hysterical order" (again troped as a form of madness) led to the skylight being bricked up, impeding all escape. Nicholas's conversion might be characterized as what Newman might call "sudden conversion," prompted as it was when he saw firsthand some unstated "action of barbarity," which then caused him "to make an entirely unaccustomed gesture, the signing of the cross upon himself" (Girls 60).
Felix Dobbell alleged--in an obvious misreading--that Nicholas's involuntary sign of the cross was in response to Selina's safe return from the burning building. Her desperate act, Nicholas wishfully imagined, was "to rescue one of the girls, or assist their escape through the window" (Girls 122). But, instead, Selina returned from the burning building carrying what Nicholas hoped was a body, "something fairly long and limp and evidently light in weight, enfolding it carefully in her arms .... She pushed her way through the girls coughing delicately from the first waves of smoke that had reached her in the passage.... The coat hanger dangled from the dress like a headless neck and shoulders" (Girls 125). Nicholas was shocked by Selina's crass materialism--that this woman with whom he was intimate and had invested so much, working with "the aim of converting her soul," "the awakening of her social conscience" (Girls 92), risked death to retrieve a mere material object. Meanwhile, others, especially the saintly Joanna, remained trapped in the inferno. Attempting "to convert her to his politics by sleeping with her" ("conversion by means of orgasm" [Little 136, 138]), Nicholas had effectively failed to effect the slightest moral improvement in Selina: "he had not in the least conveyed his vision of perfection to the girl" (Girls 92). In all of Spark's novels, the "counterbalancing and equally persistent theme is the danger of false liminality: of presumptuous, misguided reformism or spiritual quest" (Little 102). Obsessed with what he wants Selina to be, Nicholas refuses to see her "as she really is until the reality is too terrible to be ignored" (Whittaker 99). And that while, indeed, her body was slender, "austere and economically furnished," she did not, like her moral opposite Joanna, subscribe to an ethic of "dispossession and poverty" (Girls 92). (16)
Selina's selfish, maniacal act represents the total dismantling of the fairy-tale myth Nicholas had built up around her and other residents of the May of Teck, "a poetic image that teased his mind" (Girls 65). Like Felix Dobell, Nicholas "seemed to be in love with the entire club ... a common effect of the May of Teck Club on its male visitors." Holding "his ideal of the place" (Girls 84), Nicholas became "enamoured of the May of Teck Club as an aesthetic and ethical conception." He conceived of it as a Marxist system, the "miniature expression of a free society ... a community held together by the graceful attributes of common property," even, and including, a kind of socialist sexual orgy (Girls 71, 84-86). Selina's internalization of the belief in self-confidence ("Poise is perfect balance, an equanimity of mind and body, complete composure whatever the social scene" [Girls 50]) allowed her to retrieve the Schiaparelli dress. While other occupants of the house were taking elocution lessons, Selina was enrolled in a poise course. She had become the patron saint of self-absorption, "auto-suggestions" (Girls 50), and paid dearly for her canonization, succumbing to a form of madness, her own deep, from which she would not escape. She had essentially exchanged an act of madness for a life of madness, displaying subsequently all the familiar signs of post-traumatic disorder when she came across anyone remotely connected to the disaster. She refused to "answer the phone personally" or even through her body of caregivers; and when Nicholas tried to reach out to her, "She screamed, She couldn't stop screaming. It's a nervous reaction," he was told (Girls 19, 138). Fear of others, of the unfamiliar, is for solipsistic individuals who see themselves as the axis of the universe (that others do not matter; in fact, they do not exist) a fitting contrapasso. "The heresy with which Muriel Spark peculiarly concerns herself is solipsism," according to Allan Massie. "The solipsist places himself at the centre of the universe; its only meaning emanates from his perception and his consciousness" (100).
Knowledge of the "horror of hell" to Catholics is a necessary first step to conversion. Hopkins's poetic persona in The Wreck of the Deutschland had to have a personal encounter with hell as prelude to conversion:
The frown of his face Before me, the hurtle of hell Behind, where, where was a, where was a place? I whirled out wings that spell And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.
So also Newman's Gerontius in The Dream of Gerontius. Half in love with easeful death, "This chill at heart, this dampness on my brow ... this strange innermost abandonment," an experience "never felt before," Gerontius hears the voices of Jesus and Mary summoning him and "a visitant ... knocking his dire summons at my door." That visitor, the voice of death or sleep, assumes the form of an Angel who leads Gerontius on a Bunyanesque/Dantesque journey of the Christian soul "From Thy frown and Thine ire." Gerontius enters "the middle region, where of old/Satan appeared among the sons of God,/To cast his jibes and scoffs at holy Job." He is accosted by demons who demean the human (thus the Incarnation), mock ambition, and jeer at the human fear of hell's "venomous flame." Nicholas's own conversion resulted from a vicarious experience of the horror of hell. That vision of evil--Selina risking her life by returning to the burning building to retrieve a mere dress and leaving the girls to burn--combined with Joanna's intercessory faith led Nicholas to a conversion experience. "Both Selina's action and Joanna's death are viewed by Nicholas as aspects of hell, and belief in hell entails a belief in heaven" (Whittaker 69). For Spark, the conflict that exists "between the true and false religious temperament, between the religious and materialistic view of life," says Massie, "is that it is the Catholic, affirming the reality of another world, who is capable of giving due value to the material one" (Massie 105). (17) Belief in hell, for Spark, would qualify as "absolute truth," because it is something "difficult to believe" (Kermode, "House of Fiction" 30). The "hell" that Selina did not experience, intuit, nor fear she became. To have "a sense of Hell," or to be "afraid of Hell," is not the same thing as to "speak morbidly," as Rector Childe mistakenly assumes, attributing the morbidity to the urban experience ("It must have been the influence of London" [Girls 134]). And hell is hardly the "negative concept" that must be put "more positively" (Girls 24). "[A] vision of evil," Nicholas would later write in The Sabbath Notebooks, "may be as effective to conversion as a vision of good" (Girls 140).
IN The Girls of Slender Means, Spark "sees the possibility of imaginative sense from apparent randomness" and seizes on "the connection she perceived between God's unifying purpose and that of the novelist, and put it at the center of her work" (Whittaker 126). Her novels "do not finally circle back to an affirmation of the old order" (Little 99), but, instead, work to achieve "wholeness and coherence" (Bradbury 248). Hopkins, likewise, sees art sacramentally, ordering and lending coherence to the absurdity, the chaos, and the randomness of life--the "palmtree pen" dipped in "blood" that will "undo" the "warped world." (18) Any number of poems, whether The Wreck of the Deutschland, "The Bugler's First Communion," or "Felix Randal," model for us this process toward conversion, where the Eucharist becomes an ordering code, a way to manage and stabilize unpredictable perturbations, returning things to "starlight order." Both poets, in the words of Rodney Stenning Edgecombe, acknowledged "the human deficiencies which are made into channels of grace" (35). For Spark, Hopkins became an important precursor who transcended the seemingly rigid categories of priest and poet, and who was helped rather than hampered by his conversion. Spark distrusted "the emotionally-laden iconography, the rich Catholic costuming" (Little 103). Thus, more than any other writer, including those Spark publicly acknowledged (Proust, Beerbohm, and the Catholics Newman, Waugh, and Greene), Hopkins showed Spark that one could successfully because obliquely stage one's Catholicism.
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Auerbach, Nina. Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978.
Bold, Alan. "Poet and Dreamer." Critical Essays on Muriel Spark. Ed. Joseph Hynes. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. 85-103.
Bradbury, Malcolm. Possibilities: Essays on the State of the Novel. London: Oxford UP, 1973.
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. Ed. Margaret Reynolds. New York: Norton, 1996.
Edgecombe, Rodney Stenning. Vocation and Identity in the Fiction of Muriel Spark. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1990.
Giles, Richard E, ed. Hopkins among the Poets: Studies in Modern Responses to Gerard Manley Hopkins. Monograph no. 3. Hamilton, Ontario: The International Hopkins Association Monograph Series, 1985.
Halio, Jay L. "Muriel Spark: The Novelist's Sense of Wonder." British Novelists Since 1900. Ed. Jack I. Biles. New York: AMS P, 1987. 267-77.
Hart, Francis Russell. "Ridiculous Demons." Muriel Spark: An Odd Capacity for Vision. Ed. Alan Bold. Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble, 1984. 23-43.
Hartman, Geoffrey H., ed. Hopkins: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
Hinchcliffe, Peter. "Hopkins and Some Poets of the Thirties." Vital Candle: Victorian and Modern Bearings in Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. John S. North and Michael D. Moore. Waterloo: U of Waterloo P, 1984. 99-111.
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon. Ed. Claude Colleer Abbott. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1970.
--. Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. Claude Colleer Abbott. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1970.
--. The Journal and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Eds. Humphry House and Graham Storey. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1966.
--. The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges. Ed. Claude Colleer Abbott. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1970.
--. The Major Works. Ed. Catherine Phillips. Oxford World's Classics. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1986.
--. Selected Letters. Ed. Catherine Phillips. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1991.
--. The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. Christopher Devlin. London: Oxford UP, 1959.
Hynes, Joseph. The Art of the Real: Muriel Spark's Novels. Cranbury, NJ: Associated UP, 1988.
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Dedicated to the Memory of Norman H. MacKenzie: Mentor, friend, and "rarest-veined unraveller"
(1) I am extremely grateful to Cairns Craig, chair of English at the University of Edinburgh, for alerting me to the extent of the relationship between Hopkins and Spark.
(2) On Hopkins's impression of Yeats when the two first met, see Further Letter,; 372-74. Both men, says MacKenzie, "shared in reverse the experience of exile" (95).
(3) For a study of Hopkins's influence on these writers, see Richard F. Giles.
(4) Joseph Hynes asserts that "What appears to have been the greatest discernible influence on her decision [to convert] was her close and extended reading of Newman" ("Introduction" 3).
(5) For more on the Newman connection to Spark, see Benilde Montgomery.
(6) The novels, says Judy Little, "are not really about conversion, or about Catholicism" (106-7).
(7) In one of the earliest reviews of the novel, Kermode sees Spark's works self-consciously concerned about the craft of literature; they "are about novels as well as being novels," and none is "so obviously an inquiry into the way fictions work" as Girls. For this reason Spark "remains a poet, for poets have always bothered more than novelists about the exact nature of their chosen mode" ("Girls" 174-175).
(8) Spark's closed community is in many ways like Hopkins's closed system in The Wreck of the Deutschland. Giving up on rescue from outside agents, the ship-to-shore rescue and recovery systems where signals and light cannons were swallowed up by thermal howl, the community must now turn within for survival--a kind of reorganization potential within chaos systems in far-from-equilibrium conditions. With rescue from outside agents now only a forlorn hope, and with the rapid collapse of order and conventional behavior, the passengers must turn inward for self-regulation. Living systems, such as that on board Hopkins's shipwrecked Deutschland, often initiate cooperation and communication to ensure their survival; they become "negentropic and innovative ... by tapping the creative energies of chaos" (Argyros 304). "Far from equilibrium, the system may still evolve to some steady state" when it reaches the threshold, "the distance from equilibrium at which fluctuations may lead to new behavior" (Prigogine and Stengers 140-41).
(9) "Union among women," says Nina Auerbach, "is one of the unacknowledged fruits of war" (161).
(10) For a discussion of Hopkins and Thomas, see Peter Hinchcliffe.
(11) Fotini Apostolou has argued that a vast majority of Spark's fiction focuses on the seduction theme.
(12) Joanna is all but ignored in Judy Little's otherwise insightful reading of the novel.
(13) For more on Hopkins's views, and poetry in the service of religion and nation, what he calls dealing with "high matter," see Further Letters 366-68.
(14) The "De Profoundis" theme is frequent in Tennyson, Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Oscar Wilde.
(15) According to Eugenio Trias, the term "superstitio was coined by this people [the Romans] of lawyers, jurists and bureaucrats as the (condemned and rejected) dark other face of the Roman religio, which was the only form of religion that they considered legitimate. While religio channeled the precise and scrupulous rituals of the public sphere or the family, the term superstitio denoted the orientalizing and exotic forms of religion" (96).
(16) The perceptive Jane had observed Joanna's selflessness, which instead of embracing she envied and so felt exiled: "The feeling was connected with an inner knowledge of Joanna's disinterestedness, her ability, a gift, to forget herself and her personality. Jane felt suddenly miserable, as one who had been cast out of Eden before realizing that it had in fact been Eden" (Girls 112).
(17) For Spark, as it was for Newman, a true understanding of the material is key to the spiritual, which is nothing more than a sacramental view of the world--"that material phenomena are both the types and the instruments of real things unseen"; that "the exterior world, physical and historical, was but the manifestation in our senses of realities greater than itself"; and that the Holy Church is "but a symbol of those heavenly facts Which fill eternity," and her mysteries "expressions in human language of truths to which the human mind is unequal" (Newman, Apologia 28, 34). In her poem, "Against the Transcendentalists," Spark says much the same thing about her own poetics. Poetry, she believes, must deal with the real, the here and now, not Byzantium. However, Spark knows that Byzantium, the unseen, the unreal, in fact relates very much to Kensington, the seen, the real. The poem only playfully debunks transcendentalism in its attempt more so to embrace matter, "The flesh made word," itself a transcendentalist epistemic. For Spark, matter and spirit are not opposites, but operate, as it were, dialectically; the best of one achieves realization only in the presence of the other. The material without the spirit produces materialism; the spirit without the material is an apostate religion.
(18) From Hopkins's "Lines for a Picture of St. Dorothea--Dorothea and Theophilus." I owe this to Professor Mariaconcetta Costantini.
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|Title Annotation:||Gerard Manley Hopkinse|
|Author:||Nixon, Jude V.|
|Publication:||Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2005|
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