“Dieu est merde!”: the wicked and divine woman in Muriel Spark’s The Only Problem

Cooper, Hannah (2023) “Dieu est merde!”: the wicked and divine woman in Muriel Spark’s The Only Problem. MTh(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Muriel Spark’s novel The Only Problem (1984) draws upon the Book of Job in a bizarre tale that reimagines the plight of Job’s suffering through her ‘modern man’ and protagonist, Harvey Gotham. Intrinsic to the narrative, however, is the character of Effie, Harvey’s wife, who is the self-appointed leader of an anti-capitalist terrorist organisation. Effie appears to be the tour de force of the narrative, often controlling the direction of the plot, while remaining almost entirely absent from the story itself. By utilising the threefold biblical structure of the Book of Job in the novel, Spark simultaneously employs Effie in the narrative role of both Job’s nameless wife and God. In Harvey’s ideal universe, Effie embodies the caring, meek wife he finds in the beginning of Job; while in reality, Effie is a callous, powerful force, not unlike the God of the biblical text. Effie’s own biblical ‘whirlwind’ (Job 38:1) however is signified through her brutal death in the penultimate pages of the novel, and thus connotes the death of Harvey’s suffering.

Through analysis of this symbiotic relationship between Effie and her biblical counterparts, my thesis will investigate the complexities of Effie’s role in the text. I also will reflect on Spark’s own problematic critical reception as a cruel author, particularly to her female characters, and argue that Spark’s interest is in the boundaries between the feminine and the divine, in which the exoneration of the masculine and divine is contrasted with the condemnation of the feminine and human.

My argument will begin by analysing how Effie is initially presented as Job's wife in the novel. Due to her intertextual relationship with other biblical characters, I will continue by analysing other problematic female characters both in Spark’s work with the women of the Hebrew Bible; then consider the ways in which Effie fits into these respective frameworks. I will subsequently investigate how this allows Effie to inhabit the roles of Job’s wife and God simultaneously, and how these readings illuminate the layers of intertextuality present in Spark’s biblical tale.

Item Type: Thesis (MTh(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BS The Bible
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies
Supervisor's Name: Nicholson, Dr. Sarah and Carruthers, Professor Gerard
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83628
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 07 Jun 2023 12:57
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2023 12:58
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83628
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/83628

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