Friday, September 17, 2010

Benedict in Scotland

Pope Benedict began his visit to the United Kingdom with a day in Edinburgh. He visited Holyroodhouse with Queen Elizabeth and accepted a gift of a tartan scarf, which he wore while riding in the Popemobile.

It's sad for DIH to think that the great Scottish writer Dame Muriel Spark did not live to see this. I can only imagine the novel this would have sparked in her mind.

Spark published 22 novels in her lifetime, in addition to a lot of other books of poetry, essays and short stories. Today in America, she is probably best remembered for her 1961 novel, "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie."

"The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" is the story of a charismatic, controlling teacher and her effect on the lives of her students. When it isn't making you laugh, it's stabbing you in the heart. For a lot of Americans, DIH included, "Brodie" is the only picture of Edinburgh we ever got, and it is a powerful one. DIH does not envy popes often, but she envies Pope Benedict his day in Edinburgh for this very reason.

This is my favorite passage from "Brodie." I quoted it here four years ago when Dame Muriel died, but it's so good I have to do it again. Here is Miss Brodie preparing herself for yet another confrontation with the school administration:

"I am a descendant, do not forget, of Willie Brodie, a man of substance, a cabinet maker and designer of gibbets, a member of the Town Council of Edinburgh and a keeper of two mistresses who bore him five children between them. Blood tells. He died cheerfully on a gibbet of his own devising in seventeen-eighty-eight. This is the stuff I am made of."

That "Blood tells" kills me every time.

Muriel Spark entered the Catholic Church at the age of 36. If you look her up in Wikipedia, you'll find the following:

"In 1954 she decided to join the Roman Catholic Church, which she considered crucial in her development toward becoming a novelist. Penelope Fitzgerald, a fellow novelist and contemporary of Spark, wrote that Spark "'had pointed out that it wasn't until she became a Roman Catholic... that she was able to see human existence as a whole, as a novelist needs to do.'"

Pretty cool stuff. Keeps us struggling Catholic writers going.

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