They met at a Roman hairdresser's shop.
Having recently bought a car, Jardine was short of cash and on the way to lunch with a friend. When the friend spotted the famous writer having her hair done, she persuaded Jardine to pop in and present herself as a possible replacement. She left a card, and "about six months later I had a telephone call in the middle of a party I was giving and heard this voice saying 'Are you
Jardine tells this story in the dimly lit sitting-room of the house she shared with Spark in the Tuscan countryside for more than 30 years. When Spark died in
Jardine's first assignment was to organise Spark's library: "She'd just come from America and had all these books she wanted on the shelves in a certain order. She said just put them up - history, belles-lettres, novels, biography. And I thought, what exactly is belles-lettres? Half the books I'd never seen before so I had almost to read them before I could place them."
It was several years before the women moved in together and Jardine says she can't say exactly when their relationship switched from a professional one to the personal one that shaped her life. Over the years there were inevitable hints that the women were romantically linked but Jardine, 82, says the reality was simple: "We were very good friends, we really were. That's what it was, nothing else."
They never said to each other, let's make a life together, but time went by and there they were, "still doing the same thing" - working at home, taking their meals at local restaurants and going on long driving holidays across
When they met in 1968, Spark had been divorced for 25 years and had a dramatic early career in publishing behind her, along with several relationships. She had also converted to Catholicism, which became the meat of a lifelong quarrel with her son Robin, a practising Jew who insisted, in the teeth of Spark's denials, that her mother as well as her father had been Jewish.
She moved to
In the preface to the new essay collection, published in the
But perhaps those closest to a person are least likely to be satisfied by an account of their life produced by an outsider. With its dramatic failures of marriage and motherhood, Spark's will never be an easy story to tell. Born
He followed her the next year and was sent to live with his grandparents in
Jardine agrees this part of Spark's life makes a sad story and thinks there is a book to be written about famous women falling out with their sons. "I think in the early days she'd have liked to have some man she liked enough to stay with, and she definitely wanted a father for Robin," she says. "She looked for a father figure and never found a suitable one. She looked in the wrong places. She said herself she picked very badly and she did. The men I knew her with were not suitable at all."
Did Jardine also hope to meet someone? "Yes I did, but they didn't come along. Muriel remained quite keen to know everybody and maybe to meet another interesting man. But there were too many homosexuals around, for one thing, in the art world."
So they kept each other company, going on fabulous road trips to
What of her own life as an artist? A few pictures remain on the walls of her home. How seriously did she take herself? "Oh, I think I took it very seriously. I gave it up just because the time wasn't there. She sort of swallowed me up." Is this a regret? "Sometimes, but you can't have everything, can you? You can't do everything. It happened slowly. To start with I was just secretarial, doing the letters, then I'd be doing the filing and I'd know where things were. One way or another, you just find yourself doing it."
Jardine is sure Spark saw what was going on, but "didn't say anything in case it changed". She laughs. "I suppose it suited her because I could drive her and I could cook a bit and I had a house and all those things."
For all the help Jardine provided to Spark, it was Penelope's house that they lived in and her decision to move to
"It's a very strange thing being creative. I don't know if I can boast about it but I do know how lonely it is," Jardine says. "I think she found that and I think the fact that I was there with that sort of feeling too was a good thing for her. It was a good thing for me to have someone around in this huge house to say 'What have you been doing?'
"Otherwise you're just in your studio painting away, or writing away, and at the end of the day you're worn out and there's nothing to lift you up again. Unless you have a good man, which would be ideal, of course, but it doesn't always work out."
Today Jardine's work as Spark's executor keeps her busy most days with requests for permissions and, recently, the essays. She is thinking about a book of aphorisms, for which Spark characters such as Mrs Hawkins and Miss
She likes the novels very much. "There's no bad book. They were all good. The ones about London I think are good and I love the early stories about
But she gets sick of people going "on and on and on about Brodie", the teacher with fascist sympathies from the novel that Spark based on her own years at James Gillespie's
Spark's only volume of memoir breaks off in 1957 and so there is no account in her voice of her long years spent with
If some sadness surrounds
Jardine saw Spark as no one else did: "It would all be in her head for about a year and then suddenly she would what she called 'strike', and she'd be writing very fast."
While she waited, Spark would mooch about their big house and "often make her face up. She loved playing with disguise, putting on lipstick or combing her hair or doing it in a different way. It was vanity, yes it was, but it was also a game I think. I was always walking into her room when she was putting on her eyebrows and that would annoy her greatly. Her eyesight wasn't terribly good - perhaps she thought the eyebrow wasn't quite straight and then I'd walk in saying something." Without her, she says, the house feels much emptier.
The Golden Fleece: Essays by
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