REVIEWSrnA Documented Lifernby Frank BrownlowrnCurriculum Vitaernby Muriel SparkrnBoston: Houghton Mifflin Company;rn213 pp., $22.95rnMuriel Spark (1992 winner of thernIngersoll Foundation’s T.S. EliotrnAward) is a prolific writer with some 19rnnovels to her credit as well as volumes ofrnpoetry, short stories, criticism, and biography.rnYet she was a surprisingly laternstarter. She was nearly 40 when her firstrnnovel, The Comforters, appeared, itsrntheme provided by a period of personalrncrisis to which she has returned morernthan once in her later books. This memoir,rnapparently a first volume, brings herrnlife story up to the moment when ThernComforters was published and, as shernwrites, “Everything changed.”rnIt is a story of fair beginnings andrnghastly mistakes, of misdirection andrndriving ambition culminating as it mightrnhave seemed at the time in breakdownrnand collapse, but then transformed by arnprovidential confluence of forces into arnnew life and a long, successful career—rnnot that Mrs. Spark, never the mostrnstraightforward of narrators, tells it thatrnway. Instead, as she writes in her introduction,rnshe has been seriously irritatedrnfrom time to time by fanciful, sometimesrnfantastic accounts of her life, andrnthe purpose of her book is to correctrnthem, settling some scores in the process.rn”I determined,” she declares on her firstrnpage, “to write nothing that cannot bernsupported by documentary evidence orrnby eyewitnesses.” And it turns out thatrnshe is the owner of an enormous personalrnarchive enabling her to do just that.rnIt dates back to 1949, when she decidedrnto preserve just about everything thatrnconcerned herself on paper: checkbooks,rnaccounts, appointment books, notes,rncorrespondence—the lot.rnWhen she made that unusual, evenrneccentric, decision, she was emergingrnfrom a period of bruising employment asrngeneral secretary and editor to the PoetryrnSociety of London, a coven of freaks,rnas she presents them, whose behaviorrnevidently convinced her that for the restrnof her life she had better have everythingrnin writing. As Mrs. Spark’s readers know,rnher novels tend, almost obsessively, tornbe about the accumulation and use ofrnknowledge about other people. Approachedrnin that context, the existencernof this massive engine of retaliationrnagainst trespassers on her life story is asrnfantastic as anything in the novels themselves.rnUnder the title Curriculum Vitae,rnthen, backed by her archive and her oldrnfriends, Mrs. Spark presents the facts ofrnher life and leaves the perception of itsrnunderlying plot or fable, if there is one,rnto her reader. The book falls into twornparts that one can think of as Innocencernand Experience. In the first part she isrnborn Muriel Camberg in Edinburgh inrn1918 to a fairly poor but close and happyrnfamily. Her father, Bernard, was a veryrnnice, very good, utterly normal Scotsman,rnwhose only peculiarity in thatrnwodd was that he was Jewish. Murielrnadored him; as she says, “He was nornproblem.” Her mother. Cissy, was lessrnpredictable. She was an Englishwomanrnwho disconcerted the young Muriel byrnspeaking in an English accent and wearingrnnice things among the frumpy Presbyteriansrnof Edinburgh.rnMrs. Spark tells the story of her Edinburghrnchildhood with an appealing mixturernof love and candor, and her recollectionsrnof its sights, sounds, smells, andrncharacters bring to mind a world thatrnnow seems nearly as remote as the MiddlernAges. At the heart of her life in thatrnworld was the superb Scottish schoolrnthat provided the original of Miss JeanrnBrodie. There Mrs. Spark was first encouragedrnto think of herself as a writer,rnand there she enjoyed her Brst successes.rnIn fact, she won an Edinburgh schools’rnpoetry prize, and, feeling “like the DairyrnQueen of Lanark,” was crowned Queenrnof Poetry, an aberration in local tasternthat her most admired teachers joinedrnher in disapproving.rnWhen she left school at 17, she couldrnafford neither a university nor a secretarialrnschool, so she enrolled herself in whatrnsounds like a technical college to learn anrneconomical, businesslike prose style. Sherndid some school teaching in return forrnsecretarial instruction and took a job in arnsmart shop on Princess Street. But shernleaves this period of her life in some mystery.rnIt ended dramatically when, agedrn19 and against her parents’ wishes, shernwent out to Rhodesia to marry a manrnsome ten years older than herself. InrnBritain in 1937, this was an extraordinarilyrnstrong-headed thing to do. Writingrnover 50 years later, she still doesn’trnknow why she did it. Certainly, wantingrnto leave Edinburgh and see the world,rnand thinking the man “interesting,”rnhardly explains so violent an act.rnThe marriage was a disaster. Whenrnshe found herself thousands of milesrnfrom home and friends with a youngrnbaby and a mentally unstable husband,rnshe set about extricating herself with thernsame strong will one suspects got herrninto trouble in the first place. Since thernonly grounds for divorce were infidelityrnor desertion, she deserted her husband,rnno doubt spurred to act by a truly bizarrerncoincidence. She found herself in thernsame hotel as a former school friend andrnher husband; the husband shot thernschool friend. Seeing the parallel withrnher own situation, she “escaped for dearrnlife,” as she writes, and one believes her.rnHer African experience contributed tornher troubles with the Poetry Society afterrnthe war, when Marie Stopes, of birthrncontrol fame, wrote an “outrageouslyrnimpudent letter” inquiring about therncircumstances of her divorce. (MariernStopes, says Mrs. Spark, had lived withrnOscar Wilde’s old lover. Lord AlfredrnDouglas, “an arrangement which I imaginernwould satisfy any woman’s longingrnfor birth control.”)rnEventually, despite wartime suspensionrnof normal travel between Africa andrnBritain, she suceeeded in making herrnway home. With great good luck she gotrna job with a secret branch of the ForeignrnOffice, broadcasting what would now berncalled disinformation to the Cermans.rnShe is reticent about her contributions.rnRumor reports that she invented thernstory about the officers’ bomb blowingrnHitler’s pants off, but perhaps this is onernof the fictions she would like to squash.rnWhen the war ended she set about makingrna career for herself in London.rnIn 1945 Mrs. Spark was a young,rnmodestly educated divorcee from thernprovinces, without money, influence, orrnfriends. Being heroically free of self-pity.rn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn