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Muriel Spark, Animal Lover


And now an appreciation of author Muriel Spark, who died last week. Commentator Alice Furlaud developed a deep connection with the writer.

Ms. ALICE FURLAUD (Commentator): When I saw in the New York Times that Muriel Spark had died, I thought first of her cats. This may seem odd when I should be remembering Ms. Spark's novels and talking about their unique combination of the cold-blooded and the comic, served up with subtle profundities in a style which is often pure poetry.

But there was that photograph in the Times obituary, Ms. Spark on the terrace of her house in Tuscany, her hand resting lovingly on the back of a cushiony looking tiger-and-white cat. It's Pinot Grigio, the last cat she shared with her friend and companion of nearly 30 years, the painter and sculptor Penelope Jardine.

I never met Muriel Spark, but Penny Jardine has been a much-loved friend of mine for half a century. Over the years, Penny has sent me charming drawings of herself, Ms. Spark, and their animals, including the once homeless Pinot Grigio; their huge, rescued, unhousebreakable dog Shadow; and three other cats now deceased, Aurora, Benji and Little Miss Blackberry.

Ms. Spark and I exchanged occasional messages through Penny. She sent me a signed copy of my favorite Muriel Spark book, The Very Fine Clock, illustrated by Edward Gorey. There's no cat in the text, but Gorey has placed a cat on the last page, curled up on a bed.

I'd meant to send Ms. Spark a card for her birthday in February. In this card, never sent, alas, I'd planned to quote from one of her short stories. It's a passage where the main character discovers Kierkegaard's journals. Quote, "She felt like a desert which had not conceived its own aridity till the rain began to fall upon it."

That's rather the way I felt back in the '50s and early '60s when the Baltimore Sun would send me all the new English novels to review, terrific stuff by Olivia Manning, Doris Lessing, William Sansom, L.P. Hartley, and Muriel Spark. She was the most genuinely original of the lot, I thought. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie was funny and profound and coolly startling. An act of savagery in The Girls of Slender Means was especially shocking in Ms. Spark's spare and delicately witty style.

Muriel Spark has often been called cruel because she killed off so many of her fictional characters in spectacularly nasty ways. She was estranged from her only child, and she doesn't sound like the ideal mother, but she was a true friend and soulmate to Penny Jardine. Penny sounded so desolate on the telephone last week. The house is full of empty air, she said.

I will always think of Muriel Spark as the one who helped save all those needy cats, including Pinot Grigio, who is over there in Tuscany, surely missing her very much.

ELLIOTT: Alice Furlaud lives on Cape Cod with her 19-year-old cat Miss Pudding. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Furlaud

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