You must believe in spring, and Subverting causality: repetition and readers in Muriel Spark’s work
Mahmoud, Mohamed Sayed Tonsy
Tonsy Mahmoud, Mohamed Sayed
You Must Believe in Spring is a bildungsroman that follows three days of Shahed’s life in Egypt. Set in the near-future – early 2030’s – it deals with themes of revolution, alienation and privilege. Being a disciple of the national Sufi institute, and a swimmer representing the Armed Forces, Shahed toes the line between the two major factions in Egypt. He traverses a country under lockdown to find Nizam – a revered Sufi sheikh – who’s been imprisoned. Shahed is there to deliver him to an army barracks in the Sinai, where Nizam is meant to give a sermon. Along with his official mission, Shahed is carrying a bottle of ethanol disguised as drinking water that he’s planning on using to self-immolate in the barracks to protest the Armed Forces’ continued oppression of people in the country. On Shahed’s journey, the issue of rebelliousness, and the effectiveness of it, becomes increasingly muddled. His grandmother’s mythologised stories of the 2011 Revolution fall apart amidst the horrifying reality of life in the city and Nizam’s prison. Once Shahed delivers Nizam to the barracks, and finds himself close to fulfilling his plan, Nizam escapes, leaving Shahed alone, grappling for both life and freedom. Besides being a tale of one person’s idea of revolt, this manuscript deals with how people portray their narratives to reach their own personal ends.This research discusses the role of repetition in the interaction between text and reader in the cases of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Driver’s Seat. In both texts the interaction is invoked through Spark’s use of repetition throughout the narrative. Spark produces a state of constant return to various spaces in the narrative that function as narrative anchors. This constant repetition of spaces – as defined by Michel de Certeau in Spatial Stories – allows Spark to subvert traditional narrative forms, and challenge the issue of causality within the chosen works. Both works handle the issue of repetition in a way that’s directly influenced by the content of the narrative. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie relies on the repetition of words, while The Driver’s Seat relies on relational aspects between words that goes beyond the semantic structure, which Wolfgang Iser discusses in The Phenomenology of Reading. There have been previous attempts to derive a definitive Cartesian structure for Spark’s narratives, but the temporal complexity of both novels make such efforts impossible. Cartesian closed form structural analyses of the narratives neglect the fact that any semblance of structure is only implied for works of fiction. The reader constructs the framework through the reading process. The narrative anchors that turns narrative units and places into spaces allow the reader to orient themselves and measure the changes that have occurred in the narrative, without compromising the subversive aspect of the novels’ style. Iser’s theories on phenomenology, repetition, absences in texts elaborate on the relationship between the text and the reader. Repetition cements the ‘virtual reality’ of the narrative, which allows the reader to inhabit the text and witness the changes the spaces experience when exploring the narrative, resulting in a constantly evolving narrative structure.