Muriel Spark has regularly been described as a Catholic novelist, given that her conversion to Catholicism was followed closely by the publication of her first novel, The Comforters, about the struggles of a Catholic convert. However, the intellectual context in which she came to maturity in the years after the Second World War was pervaded by the issues raised by existentialism, issues which surface directly in her novel The Mandelbaum Gate. Existentialism is now associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as an atheistic philosophy, but it began as a Christian philosophy inspired by nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. It was Kierkegaard’s Christian existentialism which shaped Spark’s own ‘leap to faith’ and his ironic style which shaped her own approach to the novel form.
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