Cover image for The ballad of Peckham Rye
The ballad of Peckham Rye
Spark, Muriel.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New Directions Pub. Corp., 1999.
Physical Description:
142 pages ; 20 cm.
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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The Ballad of Peckham Rye is the wickedly farcical fable of a blue-collar town turned upside down. When the firm of Meadows, Meade & Grindley hires Dougal Douglas to do "human research" into the private lives of its workforce, they are in no way prepared for the mayhem, mutiny, and murder he will stir up. "Not only funny but startlingly original," declared The Washington Post, "the legendary character of Dougal Douglas . . . may not have been boasting when he referred so blithely to his association with the devil."

Author Notes

Muriel Spark has been called "our most chillingly comic writer since Evelyn Waugh" by the London Spectator, and the New Yorker praised her novel Memento Mori ri (1959) as "flawless." Her fiction is marked by its remarkable diversity, wit, and craftsmanship. "She happens to be, by some rare concatenation of grace and talent, an artist, a serious---and most accomplished---writer, a moralist engaged with the human predicament, wildly entertaining, and a joy to read" (SRSR). She became widely known in the United States when the New Yorker devoted almost an entire issue to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961). Set in Edinburgh in the 1930s, this is the story of a schoolteacher, her unorthodox approach to life, and its effect on her select group of adolescent girls. Though their idol turns out to have feet of clay, she leaves an indelible mark on their lives. The Girls of Slender Means (1963), also warmly praised, is a sardonic look at the vivacity of youth and the anxieties of young womanhood. Reviewing The Mandelbaum Gate (1965) for the New Republic, Honor Tracy wrote: "There is an abundance here of invention, humor, poetry, wit, perception, that all but takes the breath away. . . . The story, in fact, is pure adventure, with the suspense as artfully maintained as anywhere by Graham Greene, but this is only one ingredient. There are memorable descriptions of the Holy Land, fascinating insights into the jumble of intrigue and piety surrounding the Holy Places, and penetrating studies of Arabs. . . . In each of [Spark's] novels heretofore one of her qualities has tended to predominate over the others. Here for the first time they are all impressively marshaled side by side, resulting in her best work so far."

The daughter of an Englishwoman and a Scottish-Jewish father, Spark was born and educated in Edinburgh. After her marriage in 1938, she lived for some years in Central Africa, a period rarely reflected in her work. During World War II, she returned to Britain, where she worked in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office after the breakup of her marriage. She has been a magazine editor and written poetry and literary criticism. Spark has lived in London's Camberwell section, the setting of The Ballad of Peckham Rye (1960), but now makes her home in New York. Her novels reflect her conversion to Roman Catholicism.

(Bowker Author Biography) Writer Muriel Spark was born in Edinburgh on February 1, 1918. In 1934-1935 she took a course in commercial correspondence and précis writing at Heriot-Watt College. After her marriage in 1937, she lived for some years in Central Africa. During World War II, she returned to Britain, where she worked in the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office after the breakup of her marriage.

After the war, she began her literary career. She became General Secretary of the Poetry Society, worked as an editor and wrote studies of Mary Shelley, John Masefield and the Brontë sisters. Her first book of poetry, The Fanfarlo and Other Verse, was published in 1952 and her first novel, The Comforters, was published in 1957. She wrote over twenty books including The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Finishing School. She won numerous awards and honors including the 1965 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Mandelbaum Gate, the 1992 U. S. Ingersoll Foundation T. S. Eliot Award, the 1997 David Cohen British Literature Prize for Lifetime Achievement, and in 1993 she became Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of her services to literature. The Scottish Arts Council created the Muriel Spark International Fellowship in 2004. She died on April 13, 2006.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Touched with a Satanic glamour and a manner so disarming that grown men dissolve in tears at his slightest provocation, the Pied Piper of Spark's charming 1960 satire captivates the residents of Peckham, a small London suburb. Dougal Douglas is, like Spark (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), a Scot. He comes to Peckham hoping to conduct "research" for an autobiography he's ghostwriting about an aging stage star, and succeeds in convincing the managers of two competing companies that he is researching worker productivity on their behalf. While he claims his investigation into the psychology of Peckham's hoi polloi will lead to lower rates of absenteeism, in fact Dougal Douglas (or Douglas Dougal, or Mr. Dougal-Douglas, as he variously calls himself) frolics around suggesting to the typists and engineers he chats up that they take every Monday off. In Peckham there are "classes within classes," and Spark's sharp portraits needle at the members of the "upper-working" and the "lower-middle" classes alike. There is prim Dixie, who practices an unattractive thrift with an eye toward furnishing her new bungalow when she gets married. Humphrey Place, Dixie's fianc‚, repeats union boilerplate with the conviction of an idiot. Miss Coverdale, the head of the typing pool, maintains her grim affair with her married employer because he gives her an allowance to keep up her flat. Douglas comes to have a great deal of influence in the town and his strange ways and antics earn him friends and foes in equal numbers. The drama of the novelÄwhich most properly lies in the brilliant accuracy of Spark's spoofingÄreaches its peak when Douglas is blackmailed by Dixie's 13-year-old stepbrother and the rumors of Douglas's identity (is he a spy? a police informant? the Devil himself?) lead to murderous hysteria. Witty and quite perfect in its construction, this light and mock-folkloric novel is the work of an inspired satirist. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Sparks 1960 comic novel follows Dougal Douglas, who is hired by a company to poke into the private lives of its employees. Douglas turns out to be a demonical researcher who butts in so much he begins to influence his subjects actions rather than just observe them. LJs reviewer found the book well written but thought American readers might have trouble with the dialect. A wickedly funny novel for all fiction collections. (LJ 7/60) (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.