Movin’ On Up? Muriel Spark’s “The Curtain Blown by the Breeze”

In colonized South Africa, Sonia lives with her husband Jannie on a farm until Jannie is packed off to prison. The man shot to death a 12-year-old black boy for watching Sonia, through a half-open curtain, suckle the couple’s baby. Narrated by an unnamed nurse who befriends Sonia, the Muriel Spark short story, “The Curtain Blown by the Breeze,” then informs us of the inheritance money that renders Sonia rich and of the guidance she receives from the nurse and others. Guidance, that is, for living up to certain social standards. A changed woman now, Sonia, though still married to Jannie, is en route to taking a lover named Frank.

There is in this tale social climbing and relationship folly on the one hand, and brutal behavior on the other. Sonia never grasps the seriousness of Jannie’s murder of a child; what matters is advancement for the nouveau riche. The narrating nurse, however, is convinced there is in the colony a “savage territory beyond the absurd drawing-room.” A critic of the territory and of the times with their “encroaching slackness”—partly because she has been wronged by boyfriend Frank—the nurse finally longs to leave the place “for dear life.” The curtain blown by the breeze symbolizes sudden changes both agreeable and awful.

Spark’s story is moral but un-moralistic as well as piercing and droll. Typical Muriel Spark, which is good.

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