Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark
1981 Chapter 2 events in 1949
[the narrator is attending a meeting of the Autobiographical Association: she had already read some of their memoirs, and is matching people to stories.]
Now Lady Bernice Gilbert swam in and at first dominated the party. ‘Bucks!’ said Sir Quentin, embracing her. ‘Quentin,’ she declared hoarsely. She was about forty, much dressed up in new clothes which people who could afford it were buying a lot of, since clothes had come off the ration only a few months ago. Bucks was got up in an outfit called the New Look, a pill-box hat with an eye-veil, a leg-of-mutton sleeved coat and long swinging skirt, all in black. She took a chair close to me, her physical presence very scented. .. Her story, unlike some of the others, was by no means illiterate in so far as she knew how to string sentences together. The story opened with herself, alone in a church, at the age of 20.
However I was called, at that moment, to shake hands with Miss Maisie Young, a tall, attractive girl of about thirty who walked with a stick…I took considerably to Miss Young; indeed I wondered what she was doing in this babbling chorus; and still more I was amazed that she belonged to the opening of the memoirs attached to her name, this being an unintelligible treatise on the Cosmos and how Being is Becoming…
The inimitable style of Muriel Spark – always good on young women, and always good on clothes. Also to be admired for, on the whole, writing short books and a lot of them. When she published her first book – The Comforters, 1957 – Evelyn Waugh thought people would assume it was written by him under a pseudonym. He, like Graham Greene, was a great admirer of Spark, and they were all viewed as Catholic novelists. This book is thought to be somewhat autobiographical – being about a young woman named Fleur, out and about in London, scratching a living while trying to get a novel published. But Spark’s work resists easy labelling – there is always a feeling that the setting is almost chosen at random, what she is trying to do transcends that, and that she has a message or a point that could have played out in any novelistic milieu: convent, school, hostel, bedsit.
See also, for interest and comparison purposes, this blog entry.
Picture is of the actress Katherine Cornell, from the Smithsonian Institution archives, featured on Flickr.