Dame Muriel, Her Faith and a Work of Friction; Writer 'S Only Son Reveals the Depth of Family Rift over Mother's Conversion to Catholicism

Daily Mail (London), March 24, 1998 | Go to article overview

Dame Muriel, Her Faith and a Work of Friction; Writer 'S Only Son Reveals the Depth of Family Rift over Mother's Conversion to Catholicism


Byline: STAN ARNAUD

ONE of Scotland's greatest living writers was accused by her son yesterday of 'fictionalising' her past to deny her Jewish heritage.

Robin Spark, the only child of Dame Muriel Spark, believes a rift between them over the family's religious roots will not be healed in her lifetime.

The author of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie denies claims from the Orthodox Jewish community that, despite having converted to Roman Catholicism, she remains a Jew, because that had been the religion of her mother.

But 80-year-old Dame Muriel, who was born in Edinburgh, insists her mother Sarah's origin's were Christian, although 'she did not feel the need to be any particular religion'.

Mr Spark, a devout Jew, said yesterday: 'It does not seem right to me. It seems like half truths or fictionalisation of one's background.

'But I cannot tell her what to do. You could say she is a formidable lady.' Questions over Dame Muriel's heritage arose at a meeting of the Jewish Literary Society in Edinburgh, when English academic Dr Brian Cheyett, who is writing a book on the novelist, suggested she was not a Jew.

The assertion, during a talk on how Dame Muriel's background had influenced her writings, brought an angry response from elders of Edinburgh's Jewish community, who attended the meeting.

Articles have since appeared in the Jewish Chronicle newspaper claiming that both Dame Muriel's parents were Jews and that, under ancient Talmudic law, which states that religion is passed from a mother to their children, she too must be Jewish.

At the weekend, Dame Muriel, who now lives in a converted church in Tuscany, Italy, firmly denied those claims.

In a letter to a Sunday newspaper she said: 'My mother's name was Uezzell.

The Uezzells of Watford were and are Christians. My mother married my father in a synagogue as he was a Jew.

'My dear mother did not grasp the logic of anything whatsoever, so she did not feel the need to be any particular religion.

I know and care very little more.' Mr Spark, 59, an artist, who lives in the family's longstanding home in Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh, claims his mother's Jewishness can be traced back to her maternal grandmother.

He said: 'My mother's mother could not have married my grandfather in a synagogue if she had not been a Jew.

They are very strict about such things and carry out a great deal of very careful

research.

'In general, if your mother is a Jew then you are a Jew. That is the law in orthodox Judaism. My mother's maternal grandmother was Jewish so therefore her mother claimed she was Jewish.

'The family did grow up as Christians in a Christian environment in Watford because my mother's maternal grandmother married a gentile.

'But her mother married a Jew in Edinburgh and she kept a Jewish house.

'I lived with my grandmother for 24 years and there was never any doubt about her religion. …

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