metamorphosed into a famous writer in 1962, after the death of her father. She moved from Camberwell, London, to New York, where she became social and bohemian and glamorous. She was as difficult as ever with publishers, agents, professional advisers, friends, because she was as easily as ever insulted or let down. People were frightened to say anything that might cause her to, in Stannard’s term, “let rip.” It is almost impossible to keep track of her tiffs, disagreements, and burned bridges. Whether social or professional or domestic, her bridges were brushwood.
She moved to Rome in 1966 and became very grand. She lived for a while in the Hotel Raphael—“expensive,” writes Stannard, “but with none of the bland ‘international’ ostentation of the larger first-class hotels”—and settled in a palazzo. She retained a butler. She told her editor at Knopf that he should sell enough copies of her books to keep her in jewelry and finery. She left biographical questionnaires (from journalists or publishers, one guesses) blank, on the grounds that they were “intrinsically insolent.” She was cautioned by her accountant that the upkeep of a racehorse she’d bought from the Queen was not likely to be tax-deductible.
Her Italian residency limited for tax purposes the number of days she could spend in the United Kingdom, and thus was efficient for the purpose of keeping at bay her son and her widowed mother, whose apparent purpose in life was to disturb the peace of mind she craved in order to write. When Robin took an interest in drawing and proposed that he illustrate a children’s story she’d written, she got Alan Maclean, her editor at Macmillan, to break the bad news. In later life, Robin accused Muriel of being more Jewish than she admitted—it turned out that her mother also had Jewish ancestry—and this led to a final rift. In an interview, she said, “He can’t sell his lousy paintings and I have had a lot of success … He’s never done anything for me, except for being one big bore.” She cut him out of her will.
In Rome, she chose to have an entourage of social attendants. She felt closest to bluffers and imposters and charmers and acolytes, encouraging them to struggle for her preference. Just their names tell a Sparkian story: Brian de Breffny, Count Lanfranco Rasponi, Dario Ambrosiani, the Honorable Guy Strutt. The first and second of these friendships originated in phone calls out of the blue from men professing to love her work. To be clear: she was fond of her friends, and vice versa. They may have been phonies, but they were real phonies. Muriel Spark regarded social identity as a masquerade. If you liked that kind of thing, she was a lot of fun.
Moreover, in Italy she found lasting companionate contentment with an artist named Penelope Jardine, whose house in the Tuscan countryside became Spark’s home, and with whom she formed an odd, happy couple for the last three decades of her life. Stannard dismisses any conjecture that it was a sexual relationship, and there is no reason to doubt him. The raison d’être of the relationship seems clear. Muriel Spark always lived in a near-panicky state of flux, was always vexed by the difficulty of finding what Bellow called “stimulated equilibrium.” Jardine—steadfast and unneedy—served as both a great anchor and a great collaborator in restlessness. Well into Spark’s old age, the two would be constantly on the move, usually in Spark’s Alfa Romeo: in 1985 they turned up in Pisa, Portofino, La Spezia, Rome, Zurich, Essex twice, Paris, Florence several times, Santa Margherita Ligure, Frankfurt, and London. When she wasn’t traveling, Spark wrote. She was basically a machine for seeing and writing.