Muriel Spark’s companion of 30 years tells of ‘deep friendship’

Muriel Spark and Penelope Jardine. Picture: Nick Cornish
Muriel Spark and Penelope Jardine. Picture: Nick Cornish
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The artist who lived with the author Muriel Spark for more than 30 years and inherited her fortune has described their relationship as a deep friendship based on a strong mutual understanding.

Penelope Jardine tells a major new documentary on the writer that looking after Spark’s vast personal archives has been a “burden” on her and of her relief that it is gradually being acquired by the National Library of Scotland.

There was huge controversy after Spark’s death when it emerged that the author’s son, Robin, had been written out of her will in favour of Jardine. She has also been the literary executor of Spark’s estate since she passed away in 2006, handling negotiations with the National Library of Scotland over the acquisition of her archives.

She has helped compile a major exhibition, currently on show at the library, which features a treasure trove of personal items on public display for the first time, including handbags and evening dresses, a typewriter used for poetry and literary reviews, a ration book and betting slips.

The BBC Scotland documentary, The Many Primes of Muriel Spark, features archive interviews with the author reflecting on her troubled relationships, her struggles with illness and her religious beliefs.

Giving her first broadcast interview on Spark, Jardine describes how her writing was “all that really mattered”. In the hour-long documentary, Jardine tells broadcaster Kirsty Wark that she would not “dare” correct any of her handwritten work as she typed it up for Spark, who would spend “about a year” thinking about each of her books, but would finish them within weeks.

Born in Edinburgh in 1918, Spark was 19 when she married Sydney Oswald Spark and they moved to Southern Rhodesia. She moved to London in 1944 shortly after Robin’s birth. Spark initially wrote for the British intelligence service, became editor of the Poetry Review in 1947 and published her first novel in 1957.

She and Jardine met in Rome in 1968, when the author asked the artist to work for her. They lived together in a converted church in Tuscany from the mid-1970s. Interviewed in the home they shared together for the documentary, which will be broadcast on 31 January, Jardine tells Wark how Spark moved in with her initially to try to beat writer’s block.

She says: “She said, ‘Come and fetch me.’ She couldn’t drive. I picked her up and she stayed ever since. That was it. She found it useful, I think, to have a companion to talk to, someone who could understand what she did, who could drive a car and cook an egg.

“She was totally devoted to her work. That was all that really mattered. Everything else had to fit in and around.”

Wark asks her: “Do you think that each of you felt the relationship you had was the most important in your life?”

Jardine: “Oh no, I shouldn’t think so, no. Our whole relationship was one of freedom in a way. She was free and I was free. But we both had this ­creative side that had to be understood.”

In the documentary, Wark asks whether their relationship was “more than a deep friendship”. But Jardine states: “No, it was not. I know what you’re asking me, no, no. There was just a good understanding, I think. There was a lot to her I didn’t know at all. I don’t think you ever know anybody, actually.”