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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 ...

Playing the Seraphine

Frank Kermode: Penelope Fitzgerald

25 January 2001
The Means of Escape: Stories 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Flamingo, 117 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 00 710030 2
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... of the set was written for an anthology of ghost stories, a genre that had an obvious appeal. Fitzgerald’s Cambridge novel, The Gate of Angels, contains a character closely resembling M.R. James, and ‘The Axe’ is a skilfully composed horror story he would have enjoyed. But it is far from derivative, with much more going on in it than one would at ...

Some people never expect to be expected

Penelope Fitzgerald: Omitted from ‘Innocence’

9 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 ...

Women’s Fiction

Margaret Walters

13 October 1988
The Beginning of Spring 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 187 pp., £10.95, September 1988, 0 00 223261 8
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A Wedding of Cousins 
by Emma Tennant.
Viking, 167 pp., £11.95, September 1988, 0 670 81502 0
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TheSkeleton in the Cupboard 
by Alice Thomas Ellis.
Duckworth, 138 pp., £9.95, September 1988, 0 7156 2269 2
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... Penelope Fitzgerald has always seemed a quintessentially English novelist, low-key, exquisitely perceptive, and with a notable feeling for place – the seedy houseboats on the Thames in Offshore, or the mean little Suffolk town that dominates The Bookshop. Her latest novel, The Beginning of Spring, is a surprise, and something of a tour de force ...

In the Potato Patch

Jenny Turner: Penelope Fitzgerald

19 December 2013
Penelope FitzgeraldA Life 
by Hermione Lee.
Chatto, 508 pp., £25, November 2013, 978 0 7011 8495 7
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... Nobody expected Penelope Fitzgerald to win the Booker Prize in 1979 for her novel Offshore. Keneally was also on the shortlist, with Naipaul’s A Bend in the River the clear frontrunner. Julian Barnes remembers Paul Theroux, who was judging, saying he would ‘skim out into the pampas’ the candidates he considered non-starters; back from Patagonia, there he sat at the Booker dinner, ‘a polite smile on his face ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

Finishing Touches

Susannah Clapp

20 December 1984
Charlotte Mew and her Friends 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Collins, 240 pp., £12.95, July 1984, 0 00 217008 6
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The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield. Vol. I: 1903-17 
edited by Vincent O’Sullivan and Margaret Scott.
Oxford, 376 pp., £15, September 1984, 0 19 812613 1
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... were not foreign to her life, and Charlotte Mew has come to be cherished as ‘neglected’. Penelope Fitzgerald makes it clear that she doesn’t think this means Mew has to be considered a genius, and that the disregard she has suffered was not due to lack of support in her lifetime. She has written a good book about her: one which is ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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