Places: The Bachelors

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1960

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social satire

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Bachelors, TheGreat Britain’s capital city and largest metropolis. Muriel Spark’s characters do not inhabit the showplace London of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. Instead, she sets her story in London’s grubby, everyday, lower-middle-class and middle-class residential corners. Events unfold in coffeehouses, grocery shops, quirky private clubs such as the Pandaemonium, and old houses subdivided into apartments.

None of the characters in The Bachelors appears to be married (except, perhaps, Patrick Seton). Some have been married, some want to be married, others avoid marriage–but all are alone. Patrick, for example, avoids any close connection. He notes that it is easier to escape a pursuing woman in the provinces than in London–where, as he sees it, a woman knows everyone her man knows and can track a fleeing fellow down. The pervasive claustrophobia that Spark creates derives fundamentally from the restricted areas in which the characters move. There is only occasional talk of the world outside London. Patrick, the sinister spiritualist medium/confidence man and forger, imagines escaping to Austria–where he plans to murder Alice, the waitress whom he has impregnated. However, his plans never materialize.

Spark thus cleverly represents in physical terms the themes on which she focuses–tension between the material and the spiritual, contrasts between people who long for love and commitment and those who work to free themselves from entangling alliances. Ronald Bridges, the novel’s main character, ends a relationship because his lover is too devoted to him; Alice wants to marry Patrick, who wants only to be rid of her and the baby she is carrying.

Spark’s motifs of physical, material, and spiritual constraint reflect one of her major artistic themes–the relationship between individuals and God. Characters such as Alice, Matthew, and Ronald think and talk about God, religion, and moral obligations–and ways in which the soul is imprisoned in the body. Ronald suffers from epilepsy but nevertheless worships the God who, he realizes, is ultimately responsible for his disabling condition. Matthew is burdened by a fear of sin–caused by his preoccupation with sex–and knowledge of his own weakness, and Alice renounces any belief in God at the novel’s end.


Homes. The apartments, flats, and rooms of the novel’s characters define their personalities, circumstances, fears, and desires. For example, Tim Raymond is a young petty functionary who can afford nothing better than a single furnished room, in which he sleeps on a fold-out sofa and cooks and brushes his teeth in an adjacent alcove. Dr. Lyte, whom Patrick is blackmailing, tries to wall himself off from the threatening outside world by carefully decorating his office and matching accessories, hoping to deny the chaos beyond his doors. However, his facade of respectability is easily pierced by Patrick and Alice.

Among the most important rooms depicted are those in Marlene’s flat in an old house divided into apartments. It is here that seances are conducted by a group known as the Circle, or the Interior Spiral–terms conveying closing-in and confinement. Moreover, the seances are illusion–theatrical experiences in which Patrick is a star who confuses performance and reality.


Courtroom. Court of criminal justice in which Patrick is tried. The trial is also theater of a sort, as Patrick is the center of attraction on the witness stand, while Alice and others watch from a gallery reserved for the public. Unfortunately for Patrick, his sentence–handed down by the jury-spectators–distinguishes the reality of imprisonment from cheap self-stimulation and fakery after all.

BibliographyBold, Alan, ed. Muriel Spark: An Odd Capacity for Vision. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes and Noble Books, 1984. A collection of essays by critics who investigate Spark’s self-conscious style in portraying a sense of spiritual presence behind physical reality. Explores the novel as a sustained prose poem that uses poetic conventions in an unusual way.Hynes, Joseph. The Art of the Real: Muriel Spark’s Novels. London: Associated University Presses, 1988. An interesting source with a good bibliography and notes section. A long section on the novel explains its investigational motifs. Discusses how Spark’s work conveys her unusual sense of reality.Kemp, Peter. Muriel Spark. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1975. A long discussion of the novel’s spiritual themes and the way it deals with materialism. Places the work within the perspective of Spark’s other novels and themes.Malkoff, Karl. Muriel Spark. New York: Columbia University Press, 1968. A discussion of Spark’s use of poetic techniques in the novel to expose the commonplace from a transfigured point of view. Asserts that cataclysmic events force a reexamination of the ordinary. Analyzes the characters in terms of their solitary explorations to find new ways of knowing.Stanford, Derek. Muriel Spark. Fontwell: Centaur Press, 1963. A memoir rather than a biography. Presents one person’s image of Spark and her work. An interesting look at an unusual writer.
Categories: Places