Truth and meaning in the maze of irony: A glance at Muriel Spark’s fiction

Keywords: Muriel Spark, fiction, truth, irony, postmodernism


The article addresses the issue of truth and its treatment in the fiction of Muriel Spark (1918–2006), who with her first novel, The Com-forters, made her name as a distinctly post-modern novelist. The publication of The Comforters coincided with her conversion to Roman Catholicism, and Spark was explicit about the vital influence which her newly-embraced religion had upon her becoming a writer of fiction. The major point in the following argument is Spark’s overt declaration that her writing of novels, which she defines in terms of lies, represents her quest for absolute truth. This apparently para-doxical admission is reflected in Spark’s creative output, which combines most unlikely features: postmodernist leanings, commitment to religious belief and a deep-seated conviction on the part of the author about the irrefutable validity of absolute truth. The article focuses mainly on two of Spark’s novels: The Only Problem and Symposium, which demonstrate the postmodernist perspective with its in-sistence on the relativity of truth or its outright negation in the form of the concept of “post-truth”. The presented analysis shows how Spark’s narratives pursue truth across the multiplicity of continually undermined meanings jointly generated by the text and the reader as its recipient. The discussion emphasises the irony which Muriel Spark proposes as the most effective strategy for getting an inkling of absolute truth, which remains for Spark a solid though evasive value, hidden under the multiplicity of meanings.


Aristotle (2004). The Metaphysics. Trans. Hugh Lawson-Tancred. London: Penguin Classics.

Bradbury, Malcolm (1977). “Muriel Spark’s fingernails”. In: Patricia Meyer Spacks (ed.). Jersey: Prentice Hall, 137-149.

Dane, Joseph (1991). The Critical Mythology of Irony. Athens – London: The University of Georgia Press.

Dyson, A. E. (1965). The Crazy Fabric: Essays in Irony. London: Macmillan.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns (2002). Collected Poems 1909-1962. London: Faber and Faber.

Enright, D. J. (1986). The Alluring Problem: As Essay on Irony. Oxford – New York: Oxford University Press.

Frankel, Sara (1987). “An interview with Muriel Spark”. Partisan Review 54/3: 443-457.

Glicksberg, Charles (1969). The Ironic Vision in Modern Literature. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.

Kermode, Frank (1963). “The house of fiction”. Partisan Review 30/1: 61-82.

Kermode, Frank (1970). “Sheerer Spark”. The Listener 84: 425, 427.

Kermode, Frank (1990 [1971]). “Muriel Spark”. Modern Essays. Fon-tana Press, 267-284.

McHale, Brian (1987). Postmodernist Fiction. New York – London: Methuen.

McQuillan, Martin (ed.) (2002). Theorizing Muriel Spark: Gender, Race, Deconstruction. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave.

Mellor, Anne K. (1980). English Romantic Irony. Cambridge, Massa-chusetts: Harvard University Press.

Roberts, David. “Post-truth politics”. Grist. 1 April 2010. Available at <>. Acces-sed 20.12.2018.

Spark, Muriel (1961). “My Conversion”. The Twentieth Century 170/ 1011: 58-63.

Spark, Muriel (1985). The Only Problem. London: Triad Grafton Books.

Spark, Muriel (1991). Symposium. London: Penguin Books.

Spark, Muriel (1993). Curriculum Vitae. London: Penguin Books.

Waugh, Patricia (1984). Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. London – New York: Routledge.

Wheeler, Kathleen M. (ed.) (1984). German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism: The Romantic Ironists and Goethe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Whittaker, Ruth (1982). The Faith and Fiction of Muriel Spark. London: Macmillan.

How to Cite
Walczuk, A. (2018). Truth and meaning in the maze of irony: A glance at Muriel Spark’s fiction. Beyond Philology An International Journal of Linguistics, Literary Studies and English Language Teaching, (15/4), 101-115. Retrieved from