By 1963 Muriel Spark, who had been unknown as a novelist half-a-dozen years earlier, had published seven novels that had both won her a considerable reputation and caused her to be identified with a particular kind of fiction: terse, tightly constructed, often with a strong sense of period and place, but unconstrained by notions of realism and more interested in moral plotting than in psychological analysis. After The Girls of Slender Means her work makes a conscious change of direction: even before that novel appeared, indeed, she had begun what she described in an interview televised on 2 June 1961 as ‘a new form of novel’. After some delays and some major changes of plan this became The Mandelbaum Gate. She seems to have found it a difficult novel to write, and it took her about two years — much longer than usual, for some of her earlier books were written within a few weeks. In its earlier form it was to have been a strongly autobiographical account of the lives of three women: herself, her mother and her grandmother. The short story ‘The Gentile Jewesses’, first published in 1963 and collected in The Stories of Muriel Spark, incorporates some of the material discarded from the novel.
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