The Empress of Scotland arrives in Liverpool

Knowing next to nothing about Muriel Spark’s life, I decided to see what I could come up with on  The service is not cheap but I think they still have free temporary memberships so you can play around if you want. I use it for work as well as personal research, so the expense makes sense for me. Anyhoo, there isn’t much that comes up on for Spark. I did, however, find an arrival record for March 20, 1944. Even more curious, I went to Wikipedia and came across this:

“On 3 September 1937 she married Sidney Oswald Spark, and soon followed him to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Their son Robin was born in July 1938. Within months she discovered that her husband was manic depressive and prone to violent outbursts. In 1940 Muriel left Sidney and Robin. She returned to the United Kingdom in early 1944, taking residence at the Helena Club in London; years later the club would be her inspiration for the fictional May of Teck Club in The Girls of Slender Means.”

So the arrival record, appears to document Spark’s return to England after she left her husband and son in Rhodesia. You might want to read her entry in Wikipedia if you don’t know her story. Frankly, after reading it, I think a little less of her as a human. Not knowing the whole story, it seems like she abandoned her son and then disowned him later in life and made sure none of her estate went to him upon her death.

On March 20, 1944 the Empress of Scotland of the Canadian Pacific Line
arrived in Liverpool from Durban (Cape Town), South Africa.

This is a photo of the page on which the 26 year old Muriel Spark is listed.

Three lines from the top you can see Spark’s details. The c/o address in Edinburgh must be her father.

9 thoughts on “The Empress of Scotland arrives in Liverpool

  1. StuckInABook April 25, 2012 / 3:25 pm

    Great research, Thomas!

    I've just read Muriel Spark's autobiography, and she does skirt around the topic of her son, rather… I had been warned beforehand about this, and I just have to put it to one side when thinking about her as a writer, rather than as a person.


  2. Steph April 25, 2012 / 5:21 pm

    When I re-read Jean Brodie last year I know I spent some time poking around Spark's Wikipedia page and read about her estrangement from her husband and son. After reading some of the things she said about her son, I felt like it was little wonder her books can be so hard and mean. I still think she was an amazing writer, but I have a feeling she was a very severe woman.


  3. harriet April 26, 2012 / 3:00 am

    How fascinating Thomas! you've raised a difficult and possibly insoluble issue here — if we start to like a writer's personal life less, should this have an effect on how we respond to their books? I certainly don't know the answer. But thanks for making us think about it.


  4. Mystica April 26, 2012 / 4:02 am

    I love reading the little details you dig out – such interesting bits! thanks.


  5. Elaine April 28, 2012 / 5:33 am

    I have always found Spark's work uninteresting and though I have tried her on several occasions and have read a few, I gave up on them after The Girls of Slender Means which I found tedious to the nth degree. Then I read this about her and now have no desire to ever try her again.

    Difficult I know to separate writer from the reality and if we had to like everyone we read or listened to (think music think Wagner, love his music but hate him) we would be in trouble. Hard to do – a few years ago I read Margaret Forster's excellent biography of daphne du maurier and by the time I finished it realised I really really disliked her. Have not read any of her books since so glad I read them years ago when I was in ignorance of what a seemingly unpleasant person she was.


  6. Thomas at My Porch April 29, 2012 / 10:08 am

    Simon: I must read her autobio, but I think at this point I might be more interested in a bio.

    Steph: I think I agree.

    Harriet: Not liking an author wouldn't really keep me from enjoying a book.

    Mystica: I like to find a fresh spin.

    Elaine: Interesting that you have an aversion to Spark's work. Sometimes it feels kind of good to just give up on an author.


  7. Elaine April 30, 2012 / 1:52 pm

    Thomas – did the same with V Woolf after years of trying and in the end thought I just DONT want to read this dreary woman (hides under sofa after writing this) but was like a weight off my shoulders!


  8. Thomas at My Porch May 2, 2012 / 1:18 pm

    Elaine: I think I am in the same boat with you on Virginia Woolf, although I haven't tried to read enough of her yet to officially give up.


  9. Robin Collins July 11, 2014 / 12:43 am

    I think the photo you have is of the Empress of Scotland (1). It retired in 1930 for scrap. The second Empress of Scotland was named and survived much later (so you need to grab a different photo!)


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