Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

18 Dec

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

Hermione Lee

Language: English

Pages: 528

ISBN: 0804170495

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

A Best Book of the Year: San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times
Winner of the Plutarch Award for Best Biography

Penelope Fitzgerald, one of the most quietly brilliant novelists of the twentieth century, was a great English writer whose career didn’t begin until she was nearly sixty. Her life was marked by dramatic twists of fate, moving from a bishop’s palace to a sinking houseboat to a last, late blaze of renown. Her exquisite novels—short, spare masterpieces—would go on to win some of the most coveted awards in literature: the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Now, in an impeccable match of talent between biographer and subject, Hermione Lee gives us this remarkable writer’s story.

















ideal society, like Morris’s in News from Nowhere. All men are regarded as alike, all is shared in common, the word for “buy” and “sell” is the same, and they have no present tense: “The Garamantians had no conception of the present. They thought only of the past and the future; hence, they were happy.” Needless to say, they became extinct. The Garamantia of the present is a malfunctioning, underdeveloped African country, its young ruler, “Prince Rasselas,” a weak figure under a military

neuroses and depressions, and the pressure they created in their expectations of success. When Oliver, Dillwyn’s son, failed to gain the top scholarship to Eton, he was told, to his chagrin, that his grandfather Bishop Knox was “appalled.”45 Belinda Hunt, Rawle’s daughter, thinks that “the Knoxes were just bad at failure … If you didn’t shine and were brilliant it was bad.”46 But being expected to shine was also an inspiration. In the view of Fitzgerald’s close friend Jasmine Blakeway: “Being a

it had a vigorous afterlife. The work on the book, as with all her biographical work, involved masses of research, and all the pieces of good and bad luck that biographers get used to. She had “Charlotte-Mewing” sessions with fellow enthusiasts, like the novelist Lettice Cooper, Michael Holroyd at the Arts Council and Carmen Callil at Virago. Jonathan Barker, working at the Arts Council Poetry Library, helped her with research there, and was struck by her “self-effacement and her complete lack of

those who knew him. Penelope would always think and talk of the Knoxes as her intellectual breeding ground, the background likely to produce a writer. But Desmond had his own network of journalistic and literary contacts, too. His Oxford friend Bob Conquest, who had been working for the Foreign Office in Bulgaria during the war and since 1948 with the Foreign Office, as Information Research Officer, where his job was to cultivate connections with journalists, became a freelance writer in 1956

watched cricket and the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games. They were in agreement about some of the high art on the BBC: “We are watching some dreary music by Michael Tippett and Daddy keeps saying ‘When does the shooting start?’ ” World events were closely followed. She took the blackouts and candles of the winter of 1972 in her stride, hardened by the Blitz and life on the boat.56 She was in tears watching the funeral of Martin Luther King. Another funeral, in 1967, was more ironically noted:

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