The Featured Researcher for September 2022 was Steven Harvie.
Working Title: “I really like to mutilate the margins”: Behind the Scenes of Writing and Publishing in the Muriel Spark Archive.
HEI University of Glasgow, School of Critical Studies.
Recently, the collected archive of Muriel Spark has been used to explore the life and work of this most elusive and compelling 20th century writer. Martin Stannard used archive materials to flesh out his extensive biography of Spark, and academics have consulted the archive to address more specialized research questions. None, however, have used the Spark collections to investigate the process behind Spark’s writing practice. That’s where I come in!
On the surface, a ‘writing practice’ refers to the physical process of putting pen to paper; Spark’s first drafts, written in longhand, contain concrete evidence of a writer at work – every page is marked with the traces of progress, hesitation, revision and editing. As a case study, I use the archival materials surrounding Spark’s 20th novel, Reality and Dreams (1996), to analyse the development of a Spark work from conception to completion. Not only do I observe the textual movements made within the manuscript and subsequent typescripts – what we could call the ‘compositional’ phase of the writing – but I also take note of 1) the biographical and historical context of the writing, 2) the breadth of research Spark conducted for her project, and 3) the production of the book as a marketable object.
This line of enquiry draws from the emerging field of genetic criticism which focusses on the avant-texte (‘before text’) of any given published work in order to trace its genesis. But my research isn’t limited to one individual work of Spark’s; instead, I intend to bookend my case study with more theoretical questions, prompted by the archive, about how Spark’s particular aesthetic was formed (‘poetics’) and how Spark’s work was marketed and received. Doing so creates a wider genetic frame through which to understand and appreciate the labour and artistry of an important post-war Scottish woman writer.