Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

Overview

The acclaimed biographer of Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf gives us an intimate portrait of one of the most quietly brilliant novelists of the twentieth century.

Penelope Fitzgerald was a great English writer whose career didn't begin until she was nearly sixty. She would go on to win some of the most coveted awards in literature—the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Now, in an impeccable match of talent between ...

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Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

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Overview

The acclaimed biographer of Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf gives us an intimate portrait of one of the most quietly brilliant novelists of the twentieth century.

Penelope Fitzgerald was a great English writer whose career didn't begin until she was nearly sixty. She would go on to win some of the most coveted awards in literature—the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Now, in an impeccable match of talent between biographer and subject, Hermione Lee, a master biographer and one of Fitzgerald's greatest champions, gives us this remarkable writer’s story. Lee’s critical expertise is on dazzling display on every page, as it illuminates this extraordinary English life. Fitzgerald, born into an accomplished intellectual family, the granddaughter of two bishops, led a life marked by dramatic twists of fate, moving from a bishop’s palace to a sinking houseboat to a last, late blaze of renown. We see Fitzgerald’s very English childhood in the village of Hampstead; her Oxford years, when she was known as the “blonde bombshell”; her impoverished adulthood as a struggling wife, mother and schoolteacher, raising a family in difficult circumstances; and the long-delayed start to her literary career.

Fitzgerald’s early novels draw on her own experiences—working at the BBC in wartime, at a bookshop in Suffolk, at an eccentric stage school in the 1960s—while her later books open out into historical worlds that she, magically, seems to entirely possess: Russia before the Revolution, postwar Italy, Germany in the time of the Romantic writer Novalis. Fitzgerald’s novels are short, spare masterpieces, and Hermione Lee unfurls them here as works of genius. Expertly researched, written out of love and admiration for this wonderful author’s work, Penelope Fitzgerald is literary biography at its finest—an unforgettable story of lateness, persistence and survival. 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 05/12/2014
Booker Prize–winning novelist Fitzgerald (who died in 2000) once observed, “I am drawn to people who seem to have been born defeated or, even, profoundly lost.” In this illuminating biography, critic and scholar Lee (The Novels of Virginia Woolf) shows how Fitzgerald’s characters were drawn not just from real life but from her own life. Fitzgerald was born into a remarkably accomplished and well-connected family of clerics and writers: her father was the editor of the humor magazine Punch; an aunt (Winifred Peck) and uncle (Ronald Knox) were well-known authors; and their circle of acquaintances included Evelyn Waugh, Lytton Strachey, A.A. Milne, and other literary celebrities. “Mops” studied at Oxford and wrote radio plays for the BBC during WWII, but lived mostly in the shadow of her accomplished relatives. She got her chance to shine co-editing the cultural magazine World Review with her husband in 1950, but when the magazine folded in 1953, their lives fell apart and the couple and their three children spent years living in poverty aboard decrepit houseboats in London. Fitzgerald began publishing novels in 1977, at age 61, and Lee does an exceptional job of drawing lines of association between the author’s life and fiction. She mines details from Fitzgerald’s journals and notes to fill in the blanks of her famously self-effacing subject. Her observations have the vitality of Fitzgerald’s own reflective prose, and she writes with sympathy and clarity. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. (Nov.)
Library Journal
06/01/2014
President of Wolfson College and the biographer of Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, among others, Lee takes on a distinguished British writer whose career didn't begin until she was near 60. Fitzgerald went on to win the Booker Prize (for Offshore) and the National Book Critics Circle Award (for The Blue Flower), books that deliver a startling exactitude of insight and language. Rave reviews from Britain for Lee's biography ("brilliant and passionate," the Guardian).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385352345
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/18/2014
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 1,048,359

Meet the Author

Hermione Lee is a biographer, critic, teacher of literature, and president of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. Among her many works are literary biographies of Willa Cather, Virginia Woolf and Edith Wharton, and critical books on Elizabeth Bowen and Philip Roth. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature, and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was made a CBE in 2003 for services to literature, and a DBE in 2013 for services to literary scholarship. She lives in Oxford and Yorkshire.
 
www.hermionelee.com 
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