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A fifth column in Muriel Sparks' house

Posted by Christopher Shea  April 21, 2010 12:42 PM

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We're accustomed to reading about talented authors who treated spouses or lovers shabbily (though the details of such accounts are often contested): V.S. Naipaul, Martin Amis, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth. But, from the other direction, has any writer had to deal with a lover as treacherous as Derek Stanford, from whom the novelist Muriel Spark belatedly, mercifully, extricated herself?

According to Maud Newton, reviewing a new Spark biography (by Martin Stannard), Stanford, "perhaps her greatest love,"

... sold the letters she'd sent him, stole and did a small trade in her private papers, wrote a patronizing "biographical and critical study" of Spark and her work, and, until he died, published withering reviews of her books. Most unforgivable of all, though, he told her family of her secret breakdown. And publicly, he insinuated that her work was infected by madness.
It's trendy to say that American book reviews' conflict-of-interest rules sap some of the life from literary culture and that the British system, which tolerates feuds and revenge-reviews, is more honest. But seriously: For decades, newspapers and magazines gave Stanford, who died in 2008, a forum for serially trashing his ex-lover's novels?

muriel-spark.jpgMuriel Spark

N.B. Newton's review is the first example of a new content-sharing arrangement between the always-strapped-for-cash Salon and the surprisingly ambitious (and surely loss-leading) Barnes and Noble Review. In turn, the Review will publish some Salon pieces. And when you click on a book title at Salon from now on, it will take you to Barnesandnoble.com.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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