First novels

Rapturous reviews — including one from Evelyn Waugh — greeted 'The Comforters', Muriel Spark's first novel, started in 1954 and published in 1957.

So began a string of six novels in a five-year period: 'Robinson' came next, in 1958, followed by 'Memento Mori' (1959), 'The Ballad of Peckham Rye' (1960), 'The Bachelors' (1960), and 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' (1961).

In the United States, the Brodie tale was first published in almost its entirety in 'The New Yorker' magazine, with immediate success. Early in the 1960s, the author decided to leave London and live in New York, where she was given her own office at 'The New Yorker'. This was quite an achievement: fellow contributors to the magazine in those days included J D Salinger, John Updike, and Vladimir Nabokov.

Muriel's social life in New York was full and plentiful: there was no shortage of parties and literary gatherings with the foremost authors of the period. However, this did not get in the way of two further novels, 'The Girls of Slender Means' (1963), set in wartime London, and the prize-winning 'The Mandelbaum Gate' (1965), sections of which 'The New Yorker' serialised.

By 1966, 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' had been adapted for the theatre, Vanessa Redgrave heading the London cast of the first production. (Three years later the story would be made into a film starring Maggie Smith.) Before the stage version transferred to Broadway in 1968, Muriel Spark — now in the happy position of never again having to worry about earning a living — chose to move on. She was at the peak of her career, and Italy beckoned.