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The Ballad of Peckham Rye


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About the Author

Muriel Spark was born and educated in Edinburgh. Active in the field of creative writing from 1950 (after winning a short-story competition in the Observer), her many subsequent novels and stories, such as Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, The Only Problem, A Far Cry From Kensington and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (adapted successfully for both film and theatre), remain phenomenally popular throughout the world. She also wrote plays, poems and children's books as well as biographies of Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte and John Masefield. Her first autobiographical volume, Curriculum Vitae, was published in 1992. She was elected C.Litt. in 1992 and was awarded the DBE in 1993.

During her lifetime she received many awards, including; the Italia Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the FNAC Prix Etranger, the Saltire Prize, the Ingersoll T. S. Eliot Award and the David Cohen British Literature Prize in recognition of a lifetime's literary achievement. She was elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1978 and Commandeur de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France in 1996. Dame Muriel Spark died in 2006.


Touched with a Satanic glamour and a manner so disarming that grown men dissolve in tears at his slightest provocation, the Pied Piper of Spark's charming 1960 satire captivates the residents of Peckham, a small London suburb. Dougal Douglas is, like Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), a Scot. He comes to Peckham hoping to conduct "research" for an autobiography he's ghostwriting about an aging stage star, and succeeds in convincing the managers of two competing companies that he is researching worker productivity on their behalf. While he claims his investigation into the psychology of Peckham's hoi polloi will lead to lower rates of absenteeism, in fact Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal, or Mr. Dougal-Douglas, as he variously calls himself) frolics around suggesting to the typists and engineers he chats up that they take every Monday off. In Peckham there are "classes within classes," and Spark's sharp portraits needle at the members of the "upper-working" and the "lower-middle" classes alike. There is prim Dixie, who practices an unattractive thrift with an eye toward furnishing her new bungalow when she gets married. Humphrey Place, Dixie's fianc‚, repeats union boilerplate with the conviction of an idiot. Miss Coverdale, the head of the typing pool, maintains her grim affair with her married employer because he gives her an allowance to keep up her flat. Douglas comes to have a great deal of influence in the town and his strange ways and antics earn him friends and foes in equal numbers. The drama of the novelÄwhich most properly lies in the brilliant accuracy of Spark's spoofingÄreaches its peak when Douglas is blackmailed by Dixie's 13-year-old stepbrother and the rumors of Douglas's identity (is he a spy? a police informant? the Devil himself?) lead to murderous hysteria. Witty and quite perfect in its construction, this light and mock-folkloric novel is the work of an inspired satirist. (May)

Sparks 1960 comic novel follows Dougal Douglas, who is hired by a company to poke into the private lives of its employees. Douglas turns out to be a demonical researcher who butts in so much he begins to influence his subjects actions rather than just observe them. LJs reviewer found the book well written but thought American readers might have trouble with the dialect. A wickedly funny novel for all fiction collections. (LJ 7/60)

"The best English novelist writing today".

-- (London) Times Literary Supplement

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