Although some of her novels were published previously in the U. S., Penelope Fitzgerald remained little known to a general American audience until 1997, when Houghton Mifflin's trade paperback imprint, Mariner, published The Blue Flower, which was chosen as an Editor's Choice by the New York Times Book Review, and won the 1998 National Book Critics Circle Award.
The then 81-year-old Fitzgerald was selected as winner of the NBCC Award over fellow nominees Don DeLillo, Philip Roth and Charles Frazier, winning her first American literary award. In her native England, Fitzgerald had long been a favorite of critics and writers. Her novel Offshore won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, and three of her novels -- The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring -- were finalists for the Prize.
Fitzgerald began her writing career late in life. She was sixty years old in 1977 when her first novel, The Golden Child, was published, a book she wrote to entertain her husband, who was dying of cancer. Much of her previous sixty years' experience informs her writing, from her days as a lowly assistant at the BBC (Human Voices), to a stint living on a houseboat in the Thames (Offshore), to working at a bookstore in a seaside village (The Bookshop).
Fitzgerald was born into a distinguished intellectual and professional family, the daughter of E. V. Knox, who was editor of Punch, and the granddaughter on both sides of Anglican bishops (her father and three uncles are the subjects of her biography, The Knox Brothers). She won a scholarship to Oxford and graduated shortly before the Second World War.
With her husband, Desmond, she ran a small literary journal called the World Review, which reprinted pieces by such writers as Jean-Paul Sartre and Dylan Thomas.
Author biography courtesy of Houghton Mifflin.
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Dinitia Smith, in her New York Times obituary of May 3, 2000, quoted Penelope Fitzgerald from 1998 as saying, "I have remained true to my deepest convictions, I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, which I have done my best to treat as comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?"
While studying on scholarship at Oxford, one of Fitzgerald's fellow students was J.R.R. Tolkien.
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|Penelope Fitzgerald Home
Good to Know
|Edward Burne-Jones, 1975|
|The Knox Brothers, 1977|
|The Golden Child, 1977|
|The Bookshop, 1978|
|Human Voices, 1980|
|At Freddie's, 1982|
|The Beginning of Spring, 1988|
|Charlotte Mew and Her Friends; With a Selection of Her Poems, 1988|
|The Gate of Angels, 1990|
|The Blue Flower, 1995|
|The Means of Escape, 2000|