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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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

A Secret Richness

Penelope Fitzgerald, 20 November 1980

A Few Green Leaves 
by Barbara Pym.
Macmillan, 250 pp., £5.95, July 1980, 0 333 29168 9
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... In this, the last novel we shall have from Barbara Pym, it is Miss Grundy, a downtrodden elderly church-worker, who says that ‘a few green leaves can make such a difference.’ The phrase echoes a poem which the author loved, but found disturbing, George Herbert’s ‘Hope’. I gave to Hope a watch of mine: but he                   An anchor gave to me ...

Dear Lad

Penelope Fitzgerald, 19 March 1981

The Simple Life: C.R. Ashbee in the Cotswolds 
by Fiona MacCarthy.
Lund Humphries, 204 pp., £7.95, January 1981, 0 85331 435 7
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Philip Mairet: Autobiographical and Other Papers 
edited by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 266 pp., £7.95, February 1981, 0 85635 326 4
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... Charles Ashbee – C.R.A., as he asked to be called – must be counted as a successful man. He was an architect whose houses stood up, a designer whose work has always been appreciated, a homosexual who in his fifties became – almost absent-mindedly, it seems – the father of four daughters, and a dreamer who, by founding the Guild of Handicrafts, put his ideals into practice and then kept them going for twenty years ...

Christina and the Sid

Penelope Fitzgerald, 18 March 1982

Christina Rossetti: A Divided Life 
by Georgina Battiscombe.
Constable, 233 pp., £9.50, May 1981, 0 09 461950 6
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The Golden Veil 
by Paddy Kitchen.
Hamish Hamilton, 286 pp., £7.95, May 1981, 0 241 10584 6
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The Little Holland House Album 
by Edward Burne-Jones and John Christian.
Dalrymple Press, 39 pp., £38, April 1981, 0 9507301 0 6
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... Christina Rossetti wrote ‘If I had words’ and ‘I took my heart in my hand’ and ‘If he would come today, today’ and ‘What would I give for a heart of flesh to warm me through’ and: I bent by my own burden, must Enter my heart of dust. Her poetry she described as ‘a genuine “lyric cry”, and such I will back against all skilled labour ...

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 ...

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 ...

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