I wish I had this edition.
Long ago in 1945 all the nice people in England were poor…[A]t least that was a general axiom, the best of the rich being poor in spirit.
It’s kind of funny that Muriel Spark, from the vantage point of 1963, regarded 1945 as “long ago”. I suppose it says a lot about how much the state of the nation changed from the immediate aftermath of World War II to the swinging sixties. This must have been especially true for the women who lived at the May of Teck Club. Would it even still have existed in 1963? From its rules of governance:
The May of Teck Club exists for the Pecuniary Convenience and Social Protection of Ladies of Slender Means below the age of Thirty Years, who are obliged to reside apart from their Families in order to follow an Occupation in London.
Many of the women who live at the club, while they may hold a job in London, are clearly biding their time (and playing the field) until they get married. Like a school or any other physically close community, the women self-segregate according to their inclinations and aspirations. At The May of Teck Club the segregation plays out floor by floor.
[On the third floor] there seemed to have congregated, by instinctive consent, most of the celibates, the old maids of settled character and various ages, those who had decided on a spinster’s life, and those who would one day do so but had not yet discerned the fact for themselves.
I find the last phrase particularly humorous. It’s kind of the same for young gays. Many of us sought out like-minded individuals without really knowing what we were seeking out or why.
I have a long standing penchant for the work of Muriel Spark, and the subject of this one is clearly something I appreciate, but when I first picked this up I read to about page 50 (of 141) before realizing that I hadn’t really taken any of it in. For some reason I was distracted and wasn’t really paying attention. When I picked it up some weeks later I was tempted to just continue on where I left off. Instead I went back and started from the beginning. All the main points of the narrative were familiar to me, but the amount of important, interesting, and funny detail that I had missed on the first go around was astonishing. One of the things that went completely over my head the first time was the frequency of the narrative shifts. There is nothing confusing about these shifts, I was just distracted.
As for the book itself. It is typical Spark. That is to say it is brilliant. Spark is the master of finding the subversive side and in many cases even the dark underbelly, of some of the most conventional characters and situations. I know there is a growing fan club of Spark fans out there. You really ought to add yourself to the ranks.