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Thirteen Poems

Penelope Fitzgerald: Doodles, 3 October 2002

... The poems and drawings reproduced here were sent by Penelope Fitzgerald to her daughter Tina in 1970-71 when she was an undergraduate at Oxford. The drawings were inspired by Tina’s ‘Klee/doodles’.The Father and the Mother Here are two individuals whohave reproduced their kindand each of them possesses botha body and a mind ...

Some people never expect to be expected

Penelope Fitzgerald: Omitted from ‘Innocence’, 19 December 2019

... Penelope F​itzgerald was attached to the virtue of omission, telling one interviewer that her books were ‘about twice the length … when they’re first finished, but I cut all of it out. It’s just an insult to explain everything.’ She was exaggerating, but not by much. In her sixth novel, Innocence (1986), set in 1950s Italy, Fitzgerald provides two tantalising glimpses of the future of Chiara and Salvatore, the main characters ...

Children’s Children

Penelope Fitzgerald, 7 November 1991

Grandmothers talking to Nell Dunn 
Chatto, 202 pp., £10.99, September 1991, 0 7011 3578 6Show More
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... Grandmothers, says Nell Dunn, ‘make a strong and Vivid extension of a child’s world’, but they do this at very different ages, from about thirty-five to the limit of the mortal span. A grandmother may start out as tougher and handier than the young mother herself. Her role is likely to change distressingly. ‘I didn’t like it when she got really old,’ says one of the book’s contributors, ‘because she used to dribble when she was eating her dinner ...

Big Books

Penelope Fitzgerald, 15 September 1988

William Morris: An Approach to the Poetry 
by J.M.S. Tompkins.
Cecil Woolf, 368 pp., £20, May 1988, 0 900821 84 1
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... As a schoolboy, Rudyard Kipling used to stay in North End Road, Fulham with his aunt and uncle, the Burne-Joneses. One evening William Morris came into the nursery and, finding the children under the table and nobody else about, climbed on to the rocking-horse and slowly surging back and forth while the poor beast creaked, he told us a tale full of fascinating horrors, about a man who was condemned to dream bad dreams ...

Sonata for Second Fiddle

Penelope Fitzgerald, 7 October 1982

A Half of Two Lives: A Personal Memoir 
by Alison Waley.
Weidenfeld, 326 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 297 78156 1
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... Great sobs shook him. His whole body seemed buffeted, as in a gale at sea. Leaning back against a far bench, his head jerked down on his breast: ‘It is my turn to cry now,’ he cried between deep-rising sobs. My turn. My turn. My turn to cry. And I think my tears will never stop.’ I rose and flew to him, all but carried him to the armchair ...

Good as boys

Penelope Fitzgerald, 15 August 1991

The Best Type of Girl: A History of the Girls’ Independent Schools 
by Gillian Avery.
Deutsch, 410 pp., £20, January 1991, 0 233 98642 1
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There’s something about a convent girl 
edited by Jackie Bennett and Rosemary Forgan.
Virago, 217 pp., £4.99, January 1991, 1 85381 308 7
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... You don’t remember the lessons, you remember the teachers. At the heart of Gillian Avery’s book are the distant, half-familiar figures of extraordinary women, pioneers: Frances Buss of North London Collegiate, Dorothea Beale of Cheltenham, Frances Dove of Wycombe Abbey, Lydia Rous of The Mount. ‘A pupil at The Mount remembered saying loudly: “Well, I hate her ...

Hug me, kiss me

Penelope Fitzgerald, 6 October 1994

Such Devoted Sisters: An Anthology of Stories 
edited by Shena Mackay.
Virago, 330 pp., £6.99, August 1994, 1 85381 755 4
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When the World Was Steady 
by Claire Messud.
Granta, 270 pp., £14.99, July 1994, 0 14 014099 9
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... Shena Mackay’s outstanding anthology, Such Devoted Sisters, consists of 21 sisterly stories, all written by women, much more thoughtfully than the title suggests. Since this is a relationship which doesn’t change, the book isn’t chronologically arranged, and the earliest piece, Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’, comes last of all. Placed there, it seems like a magical explanation of all that goes before ...

Gringo

Penelope Fitzgerald, 21 August 1980

The Colonist 
by Michael Schmidt.
Frederick Muller, 125 pp., £5.95, April 1980, 0 584 31056 0
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... I don’t find that my children want to hear what things were like when I was young. Publishers, who are sometimes also parents, must find that their families don’t want to listen to them either, and yet they are right in thinking that childhood reminiscences make seductive books. Michael Schmidt was brought up in Mexico, and in his ‘not strictly autobiographical novel’, The Colonist, he turns with brilliant and painful concentration to his early years ...

The Death of a Poet

Penelope Fitzgerald: Charlotte Mew, 23 May 2002

... Penelope Fitzgerald wrote ‘The Death of a Poet’ in 1980 or 1981, intending it to form part of a group portrait of the writers published by Harold Monro’s Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury. In the event, however, she wrote a biography of Charlotte Mew, Charlotte Mew and Her Friends, which was published, and reviewed in the LRB in 1984 – and will be reissued this summer ...

Luck Dispensers

Penelope Fitzgerald, 11 July 1991

The Kitchen God’s Wife 
by Amy Tan.
HarperCollins, 415 pp., £14.99, June 1991, 0 00 223708 3
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... Amy Tan was born in San Francisco soon after her parents emigrated from Communist China. A few years ago she joined a Writers’ Circle, which told her, as Writers’ Circles always do, to write what she had seen herself. She wrote about what she had seen herself and what she hadn’t – her own experience and her mother’s. She produced a long, complex and seductive narrative, The Joy Luck Club, which was one of the best sellers of 1989 ...

Grandmother’s Footsteps

Penelope Fitzgerald, 9 April 1992

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China 
by Jung Chang.
HarperCollins, 524 pp., £17.50, March 1992, 0 00 215357 2
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... Jung Chang’s grandmother, Yu Fang, walked ‘like a tender young willow in a spring breeze’, meaning that she could only totter because her feet had been bound and the arches crushed with a stone. If this was not done, a girl would be exposed to the contempt of her husband’s family and she would blame her mother for weakness. Fifty years later, Jung Chang herself was 14 when the Red Guards were organised in her school ...

Fried Nappy

Penelope Fitzgerald, 12 September 1991

The Van 
by Roddy Doyle.
Secker, 311 pp., £13.99, August 1991, 9780436200526
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... This is the third and last of Roddy Doyle’s novels about the Rabbitte family of Barrymount, an unprepossessing council estate suburb of North Dublin, much like Kilbarrack, where Doyle was born himself. Barrymount, although by no means a foul rag-and-bone shop, is a place for dreams to start. In The Commitment young Jimmy Rabbitte decides that Ireland is ready for soul music and gets his group together ...

Human Boys

Penelope Fitzgerald, 7 December 1989

True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole, Margaret Hilda Roberts and Robert and Susan Lilian Townsend 
by Sue Townsend.
Methuen, 117 pp., £5.99, August 1989, 0 413 62450 1
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CounterBlasts No 9: Mr Bevan’s Dream 
by Sue Townsend.
Chatto, 74 pp., £2.99, November 1989, 0 7011 3468 2
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... Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ came out at much the same time as John Pocock’s The Diary of a London Schoolboy 1826-30, published by the Camden Society. John Pocock, 12¾, decisively a real person, was a builder’s son who lived on the edge of Kilburn, two miles out of London. In his journal, written on the empty pages of an old bankbook, he notes that on 23 May 1826 he walked to school: ‘Old Monk drinks like a fish ...

Bringers of Ill Luck and Bad Weather

Penelope Fitzgerald: Anne Enright, 2 March 2000

What Are You Like 
by Anne Enright.
Cape, 257 pp., £10, March 2000, 0 224 06063 5
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... In Anne Enright’s collection The Portable Virgin (published in 1991) the first story is about Cathy, who works in the handbag department of a large Dublin store. Cathy classifies the customers by the bags she induces them to buy, bags which ‘take them one step beyond who they thought they might be.’. Cathy marries late, but only falls violently in love when a ‘loose, rangy woman’ comes into the store and fingers the most beautiful of imports, ‘an Argentinian calf-skin shoulder bag in tobacco brown ...

Following the plot

Penelope Fitzgerald, 21 February 1980

... Suppose I were to try to write a story which began with a journey I made to the North of Mexico 27 years ago, taking with me my son, then aged five. We were going to pay a winter visit to two old ladies called Delaney who lived comfortably, in spite of recent economic reforms, on the proceeds of the family silver mine. They had lived in Fonseca ever since they were girls – one was sister-in-law to the other ...

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