Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

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Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
Penelope Fitzgerald a life.jpg
AuthorHermione Lee
FormatHardcover; Paperback

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life is a biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, written by Hermione Lee, which includes reminiscence of J.R.R. Tolkien as professor at Oxford.

From the publisher[edit | edit source]

Penelope Fitzgerald (1916–2000) was a great English writer, who would never have described herself in such grand terms. Her novels were short, spare masterpieces, self-concealing, oblique and subtle. She won the Booker Prize for her novel Offshore in 1979, and her last work, The Blue Flower, was acclaimed as a work of genius. The early novels drew on her own experiences – a boat on the Thames in the 1960s; the BBC in war time; a failing bookshop in Suffolk; an eccentric stage-school. The later ones opened out to encompass historical worlds which, magically, she seemed to possess entirely: Russia before the Revolution; post-war Italy; Germany in the time of the Romantic writer Novalis.

Fitzgerald’s life is as various and as cryptic as her fiction. It spans most of the twentieth century, and moves from a Bishop’s Palace to a sinking barge, from a demanding intellectual family to hardship and poverty, from a life of teaching and obscurity to a blaze of renown. She was first published at sixty and became famous at eighty. This is a story of lateness, patience and persistence: a private form of heroism.

Loved and admired, and increasingly recognised as one of the outstanding novelists of her time, she remains, also, mysterious and intriguing. She liked to mislead people with a good imitation of an absent-minded old lady, but under that scatty front were a steel-sharp brain and an imagination of wonderful reach. This brilliant account – by a biographer whom Fitzgerald herself admired – pursues her life, her writing, and her secret self, with fascinated interest.

Extract[edit | edit source]

"Tolkien sleeps in dressing-room with bath in corner, not to disturb Edith with late work & snoring. Flannel trousers, tweed jacket… has to light stove in his study a.m. for tutorials… Lectures in East School… bell of Merton quarter a mile away strikes the hour, gathers up notes, clears out for next lecturer… shops at the Covered Market in High St for sausages… Big typewriter with interchangeable type, Anglo-Saxon letters… Talked fast & not clearly, moved from idea to idea v fast… tended to talk in monologues… would dress us in Icelandic bearskin rug as polar bear, or as A/Saxon warrior… Friendship with C S Lewis… companionship between men… C S Lewis drawn to Xtianity by T’s explanation of it as a ‘myth that is true".