Penelope Fitzgerald

Penelope Fitzgerald

A Life

Book - 2014
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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. The first group of these drew on her own experiences -- a boat on the Thames in the 1960s; the BBC in war time; a failing bookshop in a 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, as cryptic and as intriguing 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 started publishing 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 biography -- by a biographer whom Fitzgerald herself admired -- pursues her life, her writing, and her secret self, with fascinated interest.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2014
Nre York : Vintage Books, 2015
ISBN: 9780385352345
Branch Call Number: 823 FITZG LEE
Characteristics: 488 pages
Notes: "This is a Borzoi book."


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Mar 23, 2016

A well-written, sympathetic biography chronicling the life of Fitzgerald from early privilege, success and promise through hardship to late success. I read Fitzgerald's novels as I read this biography and they enriched each other.

manoush Mar 07, 2015

An extremely well-written biography based on a staggering amount of material, yet masterfully arranged in a way that doesn't overwhelm or drown the reader. Lee's respect and admiration for Fitzgerald is clear on every page; it's refreshing to see a biographer respect her subject's silences and evasions. Lee does a fabulous job capturing Fitzgerald's late-blooming creativity. Like a detective, she reads almost every scrap Fitzgerald ever wrote (including teaching notes and comments on student essays) to tease out the long gestation of the writer's ideas. This book is a wonderful work of appreciation for values that don't carry much purchase nowadays. Values of reticence, understatement, nonconformism, and devotion to lost causes and establishment outsiders.

Jun 19, 2014

So interesting to read about a person who wasn't just handed everything in life but who overcame obstacles to pursue an intellectual life in difficult circumstances. Also a great literary review of her work -- each major novel is discussed in it's own chapter. Knowing about the writer's life just makes the novels that much more interesting -- however they also stand on their own as thoughtful and hugely entertaining works. Enjoy!

stewaroby Mar 14, 2014

Hermione Lee has written a model of a literary biography; the perfect mix of telling detail, considered judgement and sympathetic but honest examination, all written in a style that makes the reader want to just keep on reading.


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