Penelope Fitzgerald

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Penelope Fitzgerald (17 December 1916 - 28 April 2000) was a Booker Prize-winning English poet, novelist and biographer.


  • 1 Early life
  • 2 Literary career
    • 2.1 Historical novels
  • 3 Bibliography
    • 3.1 Biographies
    • 3.2 Novels
    • 3.3 Short stories
  • 4 External links

Early life

She was the daughter of Punch editor Edward Knox and the niece of theologian and crime writer Ronald Knox, cryptographer Dilly Knox and Bible scholar Wilfred Knox. "When I was young," Fitzgerald later wrote,

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. [1]

She was educated at 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; she also worked in a bookshop in Southwold, Suffolk. For a time she lived in Battersea on the Thames, on a houseboat that reportedly twice sank.

Literary career

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 fathers 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 contemporary Tutankhamun mania. The novel is said to have been written to amuse her husband, who died in 1976, during his final illness.

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 the shop's decision to stock Lolita as a pivotal event.

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.

Historical novels

At that point, Fitzgerald has said, she "had finished writing about the things in my own life, which I wanted to write about." [2] 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 historical figure Antonio Gramsci 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, centers 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 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and philosopher Karl Wilhelm Friedrich von Schlegel, feature in the story. The book, which won the American National Book Critics award in 1998, has been called Fitzgerald's masterpiece. [3] [4]



  • 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)

Short stories

  • The Means of Escape (2000)
  • "Fitzgerald, Penelope", Britannica Student Encyclopedia (2006).
  • Meet the Writers: Penelope Fitzgerald, Barnes and Noble.

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