David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.

Famous Last Words


There are several anthologies of famous last words. You know the kind of thing. A servant lit a candle at the bedside of the dying Voltaire, and he said, “The flames? Already.”  A priest implored a monarch on his deathbed to forgive his enemies. The reply: “I have none. I have killed them all.”

Here’s an apposite anecdote which might well make its way into immortality. Doris Lessing, this week’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, grew up in Southern Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe then was.  Only a few miles away lived Muriel Spark, a future writer of equal fame. Their age, their circumstances, were very similar but amazingly the two had no awareness of one another even though both went to the same Catholic convent school, though at different times. Only years later, in London, they were to meet and became friends, and in a certain sense rivals.

Muriel died in April last year.  The lady who was with her at the end quotes Muriel’s last words, and they provide comfort as well as a final touch of inimitable Sparkian fantasy: “I must remember to tell Doris that when you come to die, you don’t give a damn.”


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