Sweet old things: Moral complexities in old age in muriel spark's memento mori

Suzanne E. England, Martha D. Rust

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Through the lens of Muriel Spark's dark comedic novel, Memento Mori, this paper explores questions of morality, mortality, and the moral choices and performances in old age and in the systems and places of care. Spark's elderly characters are complex moral actors - some virtuous and some decidedly not - who have been receiving mysterious phone calls telling them simply, "Remember you must die." We, the co-authors, are from two different disciplines, namely Renaissance and medieval literature, and social work and critical gerontology. Among the questions that interest us is the paradox of a master narrative that on the one hand exempts the old from moral criticism yet holds them to a higher moral standard - essentially positioning them as moral nonentities, and relieving the old, their caretakers, and society of moral responsibility. Another is the question of whether moral agency in old age has distinctive aspects, and whether consciousness of one's impending mortality effects moral reasoning and performance. In this paper we offer our individual readings of the ways the novel opens up conceptual space in aging theory, and conclude with our thoughts about what our collaboration suggests for continuing cross-disciplinary dialogue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-85
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Aging Studies
StatePublished - Apr 1 2015


  • Literature
  • Memento mori
  • Morality
  • Old age
  • Virtues

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health Policy


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