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Muriel Spark and the art of deception : constructing plausibility with the methods of WWII black propaganda.

Lopez, Beatriz (2020) 'Muriel Spark and the art of deception : constructing plausibility with the methods of WWII black propaganda.', Review of English studies., 71 (302). pp. 969-986.


From May to October 1944, Muriel Spark was employed by the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), a secret service created by Britain during the Second World War with the mission of spreading propaganda to enemy and enemy-occupied countries. This was a formative experience which allowed her to develop an understanding of literal truth as elusive and historically contingent—even a constructed effect—as well as an interest in fictional fabrication and deception. Drawing on an account of the methods of WWII British black propaganda, Spark’s biographical accounts, and heretofore untapped archival documents from the Political Warfare Executive Papers (National Archives), this essay analyses how Spark employs the fictional equivalent of the methods of WWII black propaganda in order to examine the creation of plausibility in her novels. It explores Spark’s deployment of verifiable facts, evidence, precise information, appropriate tone, narrative coherence, targeting, covert motives, chronological disruption and repetition to construct the key elements of fiction in her novels. I argue that such fictional strategies provide a political and moral antidote to totalitarian thinking by presenting reality as necessarily contingent, and therefore open to external contestation and democratic debate. Bringing together history, biography and literary criticism, this is the first systematic and archivally supported examination of how Spark’s work for the PWE opens up a way of rethinking her fascination with the art of deception.

Item Type:Article
Full text:Publisher-imposed embargo until 04 August 2022.
(AM) Accepted Manuscript
File format - PDF
Publisher Web site:
Publisher statement:This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in The Review of English Studies following peer review. The version of record [Lopez, B. (2020) Muriel Spark and the Art of Deception: Constructing Plausibility with the Methods of WWII Black Propaganda, The Review of English Studies, Volume 71, Issue 302, November 2020, Pages 969–986] is available online at: 
Date accepted:29 May 2020
Date deposited:02 June 2020
Date of first online publication:04 August 2020
Date first made open access:04 August 2022

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