17 December 1916
|Died||28 April 2000(aged 83)|
|Period||20th century, 21st century|
|Notable work(s)||The Bookshop, Offshore, The Blue Flower|
|Notable award(s)||Booker Prize|
|Spouse(s)||Desmond Fitzgerald (1941-1976)|
Penelope Fitzgerald (17 December 1916 – 28 April 2000) was a Booker Prize-winning English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. In 2008, The Times included her in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945". In 2012, The Observer named her final novel, The Blue Flower, as one of "The 10 best historical novels".
She was the daughter of Punch editor Edmund Knox and Christina Hicks, one of the first woman students at Oxford. She was the niece of theologian and crime writer Ronald Knox, cryptographer Dilly Knox and Bible scholar Wilfred Knox. Fitzgerald later wrote,
- When I was young I took my father and my three uncles for granted, and it never occurred to me that everyone else wasn't like them. Later on, I found that this was a mistake, but I've never quite managed to adapt myself to it. I suppose they were unusual, but I still think that they were right, and insofar as the world disagrees with them, I disagree with the world.
She was educated at Wycombe Abbey and Somerville College, Oxford; she worked for the BBC during World War II. In 1941, she married Desmond Fitzgerald, an Irish soldier; they had three children, a son and two daughters. In the 1960s, she taught at the Italia Conti Academy, a drama school and at Queen's Gate School for Girls. She also worked in a bookshop in Southwold, Suffolk. For a time she lived in Battersea on the Thames, on a houseboat that reportedly sank twice.
She launched her literary career in 1975, at the age of 58, when she published a biography of Pre-Raphaelite artist Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898). This was followed two years later by The Knox Brothers, a joint biography of her father and uncles in which she managed to never mention herself by name.
Later in 1977, she published her first novel, The Golden Child, a comic murder mystery with a museum setting inspired by the Tutankhamun mania earlier in the decade. The novel is said to have been written to amuse her terminally-ill husband, who died in 1976.
Over the next five years she published four novels, each connected in some way with her life experience. The Bookshop (1978), which was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize, concerned a struggling bookstore in the fictional East Anglian town of Hardborough; set in 1959, the novel includes as a pivotal event the shop's decision to stock Lolita. It drew on the author's experiences working in a Southwold bookshop.
Fitzgerald won the Booker Prize with 1979's Offshore, a novel that takes place among Battersea houseboat community in 1961. Human Voices is a fictionalized account of wartime life at the BBC, while At Freddie's depicts life at a drama school. In 1999, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature".
At that point, Fitzgerald has said, she "had finished writing about the things in my own life, which I wanted to write about."  After writing a biography of the poet Charlotte Mew (1869–1928), she began a series of novels with a variety of historic settings.
First was Innocence (1986), in Italy in the 1950s, the story of a romance between the daughter of an impoverished aristocrat and a doctor from a southern Communist family. The Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) appears as a minor character.
The Beginning of Spring (1988) takes place in Moscow in 1913, examining the world just before the Russian Revolution through the family and work troubles of a British small businessman who was born and raised in Russia.
The Gate of Angels (1990), about a young Cambridge University physicist who falls in love with a nurse after a bicycle accident, is set in 1912, a time when physics is about to enter a similarly revolutionary period.
Fitzgerald's final novel, The Blue Flower, published in 1995, centres on the 18th century German poet and philosopher Novalis, and his love for what is portrayed as a rather ordinary child. Other historical figures, like the poet Goethe and philosopher Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel, feature in the story. The book, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award 1997, has been called Fitzgerald's masterpiece. In 1999 it was adapted and dramatised for BBC Radio by Peter Wolf.
A collection of Fitzgerald's short stories, The Means of Escape, and a volume of her essays, reviews and commentaries, A House of Air, were published posthumously.
- Edward Burne-Jones (1975)
- The Knox Brothers (1977)
- Charlotte Mew and Her Friends: With a Selection of Her Poems (1984)
- The Golden Child (1977)
- The Bookshop (1978)
- Offshore (1979)
- Human Voices (1980)
- At Freddie's (1982)
- Innocence (1986)
- The Beginning of Spring (1988)
- The Gate of Angels (1990)
- The Blue Flower (1995, UK, 1997, US)
- The Means of Escape (2000)
- At Hiruharma (2000)
Essays and Reviews
- A House of Air (US title: The Afterlife) edited by Terence Dooley, with an introduction by Hermione Lee (2005)
- So I Have Thought of You. The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald edited by Terence Dooley, with a preface by A. S. Byatt (2008)
- (5 January 2008). The 50 greatest British writers since 1945. The Times. Retrieved on 2010-02-01.
- Skidelsky, William (13 May 2012). "The 10 best historical novels". The Observer (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 13 May 2012.
- The Independent 24 August 2008, review of her published correspondence: Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- "Golden Pen Award, official website". English PEN. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
- Cathy Hartley (2003). A Historical Dictionary of British Women. Psychology Press. p. 349.
- ; .
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Penelope Fitzgerald|
- "Penelope Fitzgerald", by Harriet Harvey-Wood, The Guardian, 3 May 2000.
- "How did she do it?", Julian Barnes, The Guardian, 26 July 2008
- "The Unknown Penelope Fitzgerald", Edmund Gordon,TLS, 30 June 2010
- "Fitzgerald, Penelope", Britannica Student Encyclopedia (2006).
- Meet the Writers: Penelope Fitzgerald, Barnes and Noble.
- Penelope Fitzgerald Collection, Additional Papers at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin