An Update on Muriel Spark’s Chinese Translations

In this blog note, Kaiyue He builds on her PhD research to outline the history of Muriel Spark’s Chinese reception. As it appears, most Chinese translations of Spark are missing from the current BOSLIT database. The list of those is reproduced at the end of this article and we will make sure to update it as soon as the revived catalogue is up and running. In addition, Kaiyue comments on Spark’s evocation of Chinese culture in her work — an interesting list of quotes which could lead on to a broader analysis of Spark’s global imagination.

Muriel Spark’s six novels and the collection of her short stories have all been translated into Chinese. But the record of most of these books are missing in the database of BOSLIT. As early as 1987, Jiaxiang Wang translated Memento Mori (1959) and published an article introducing this novel to its Chinese readers in Foreign Literature in 1986. A year later, Jisheng Ren translated The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) – Spark’s most acclaimed novel, into Chinese and published it alongside the translated fiction of Angela Carter, V. S. Naipaul, William Golding, and David Storey. Fengzhu Yuan translated The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) and The Driver’s Seat (1970) and published this book with Yi Lin Press in 2000. Yuan also introduced Spark as a distinguished British woman writer emerged in the 1950s in an article published in Contemporary Foreign Literature in 1995. Yuan’s translation of Miss Jean Brodie was the most popular book among Spark’s translated works in Chinese. This book was republished by Nan Hai publishing company in 2015 and by People’s literature publishing house in 2020. Following the publication of Yuan’s translation, the People’s literature publishing house published Jing Li’s translation of The Driver’s Seat under a different Chinese title, Sorry, I’m looking for Strangers, in 2022 and Yujia Wang’s translation of The Complete Short Stories of Muriel Spark in 2023.

Weihang Song published his translation of Aiding and Abetting (2000) in Taibei in 2009 and republished this book under a different Chinese title in 2015. Although his book appears briefly at the bookshelf of Spark’s Tuscan home in the BBC documentary ‘The Many Primes of Muriel Spark’ in 2018, it is less well-known in mainland China and seems to be out of print. After the celebration of Spark’s centenary year of birth at Fudan University in 2018, the translation of Spark’s work in China has significantly increased in recent years. In 2022, Nanjing University Press published the translation of two of Spark’s novels, including Guiju Peng’s translation of Loitering with Intent (1981) and Xue Bo’s translation of A Far Cry from Kensington (1988). More Spark’s works, including her other novels, critical essays, poems, biographical studies, memoir, plays, and children’s stories, are expected to be translated into Chinese.

The mentioning of China in Spark’s works

In Spark’s fiction that has global settings, China features fleetingly with its exotic culture and politics. In Spark’s story ‘The Fortune-Teller’, the narrator observes that in the French eighteenth-century château, there is ‘an Oriental room with a Chinese part and an Egyptian part, full of those furnishings and treasures brought back from the travels of nineteenth-century ancestors, which are too good for the use of ordinary tourists yet not too rare for everyday accommodation’.[1] In her later novel, The Hothouse by the East River (1973), Spark also describes Pierre’s room as an oriental room: ‘The room has been newly decorated with Chinese panels, lacquered furniture, and a screen painted with flat white petals and pink birds. Paul’s long fingers trace the carvings of an ivory figurine’.[2] These two scenes indicate Spark’s awareness of the western aristocrats’ preference for Chinese-style house decorations. China’s former political leader Chairman Mao is mentioned by the servant Heloise in a conversation in Not to Disturb (1971), in which Heloise mockingly refutes Hadrian’s opinion against her: ‘Who do you think you are, you – Chairman Mao?’ [3] This echoes Spark’s numerous references to other political leaders in her works, like Julius Caeser, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Stanley Baldwin, Winston Churchill, and Richard Nixon. In The Driver’s Seat, the character Bill introduces the diet based on the macrobiotic system, formulated on the Eastern doctrine of yin and yang.[4] This doctrine bears strong connections with Daoism. In The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1963), the Scottish protagonist Dougal Douglas performed various dances in the dance hall and his mimicry of a Chinese coolie has racist connotations. ‘He sprang up and with the lid on his head was a Chinese coolie eating melancholy rice’.[5] In Territorial Rights (1979), Mark Curran remarks briefly to his student-lover Robert Leaver on the power of money in Venice and Hong Kong: ‘just money. Like buying a tie, or a plane ticket to Hong Kong, one can buy information about people’s fathers’. [6] It is hard to analyse Spark’s conception of China or Chinese people through studying these short quotations. But her references to this country have certainly added the global appeal of her works.

Some book covers of Spark’s translated works in Chinese:

Ms Kaiyue He is a PhD student in the School of Critical Studies and a Graduate Teaching Assistant in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Glasgow.

[1] Spark, ‘The Fortune-Teller’ in The Collected Stories of Muriel Spark (London: Penguin books, 1994), pp. 326-7.

[2] Spark, The Hothouse by the East River (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2018), p. 132.

[3] Spark, Not to Disturb (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2018), p. 50.

[4] Spark, The Driver’s Seat in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Girls of Slender Means, The Driver’s Seat and The Only Problem (New York, London, and Toronto: Everyman’s Library, 2004), 241-318, p. 255, p. 267.

[5] Spark, The Ballad of Peckham Rye in The Novels of Muriel Spark, vol 2 (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995), p. 554.

[6] Spark, Territorial Rights (London: Virago, 2014), p. 29.

First authorSpark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-Spark, Muriel, 1918-
Original titleThe Driver’s Seat; The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieThe prime of miss Jean BrodieAiding and AbettingAiding and AbettingThe Driver’s SeatThe prime of miss Jean BrodieThe prime of miss Jean BrodieA Far Cry from KensingtonThe Driver’s SeatLoitering with intentMemento MoriThe Complete Short Stories
Translated title驾驶席 (jià shǐ xí) 布罗迪小姐 (bù luó dí xiǎo jiě)布罗迪小姐的青春 (bù luó dí xiǎo jiě de qīng chūn)脱罪 (tuōzuì)共谋 (gòng móu)驾驶席 (jià shǐ xí)布罗迪小姐的青春 (bù luó dí xiǎo jiě de qīng chūn)布罗迪小姐的青春 (bù luó dí xiǎo jiě de qīng chūn)
肯辛顿旧事 (kěn xīn dùn jiù shì)

对不起, 我在找陌生人 (duì bù qǐ , wǒ zài zhǎo mò shēng rén)

处心积虑 chǔ xīn jī lǜ
死的警告 (sǐ de jǐng gào)缪丽尔·斯帕克短篇小说全集 (miù lì ěr sī pà kè duǎn piān xiǎo shuō quán jí)
Named ContributorFengzhu YuanFengzhu YuanWeihang SongWeihang SongFengzhu YuanJisheng RenFengzhu YuanXue BoJing LiGuiju PengJiaxiang WangYujia Wang
SubjectsScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fictionScottish fiction
PublisherNanjing: Yi Lin PressHaikou: Nan Hai Publishing CoTaibei: Faith Book StoreMai Tian Publishing CoNanjing: Yi Lin PressBeijing: China Workers Publishing HouseBeijing: People’s Literature Publishing HouseNanjing: Nanjing University PressBeijing: People’s Literature Publishing HouseNanjing: Nanjing University PressBeijing: China federation of literary and art circles publishing houseBeijing: People’s Literature Publishing House
language of this workChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChineseChinese
Original languageEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglishEnglish
Publication placeChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChinaChina

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