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Penelope Fitzgerald Biography

(1916–2000), Punch, The Golden Child, The Bookshop, Offshore, Human Voices, At Freddie's, Innocence

British novelist and biographer, born in Lincoln, educated at Somerville College, Oxford. Her father, Edward (‘Evoe’) Knox, edited Punch from 1932 to 1940; her uncles were Dillwyn Knox, the Greek scholar and cryptographer, and Wilfred and Ronald Knox, the theologians. Fitzgerald worked at the BBC during the Second World War and began her writing career in her sixties. Her novels draw on her experiences of working as a journalist, in the Ministry of Food, in a Suffolk bookshop, at the Italia Conti Stage School, and at Westminster Tutors, and of living on a Thames barge. The Golden Child (1977) is an entertaining mystery story. The Bookshop (1978) is a wry, sad story of Florence Green's battle with a poltergeist, and with local enemies, when she opens the only bookshop in Hardborough, East Suffolk. Offshore (1979; Booker Prize) is a touching, funny account of the lives of the Chelsea houseboat people in the 1960s, especially the vulnerable Nenna James and her independent daughters Mattie and Tilda. Human Voices (1980) is a splendid comic satire on the BBC's baroque, high-minded wartime bureaucracy, centred engagingly on the new girl from Birmingham, Annie Asra, and her passion for the Recorded Programmes Director. At Freddie's (1982) is set in a 1960s London Stage School with a formidable proprietress. Two later novels move out from Fitzgerald's personal experience to ‘a journey outside of myself’: Innocence (1986) is set in a Florentine villa of the 1950s, whose family provides a vivid, tragi-comic version of post-war Italy; The Beginning of Spring (1988) is a poignant Anglo-Russian novel in which the sense of imminent momentous change presses in on the domestic concerns of its characters. Her next novel, The Gate of Angels (1990), was followed by The Blue Flower (1995) which deals with the idealized romantic relationship of the eighteenth-century German poet, Novalis, and his pubescent fiancée, Sophie. Fitzgerald has also written lives of Edward Burne Jones (1975), The Knox Brothers (1977), and of Charlotte Mew and Her Friends (1984). Fitzgerald writes short novels because she ‘likes economy and compression’. Her style is subtle and subdued, and she writes about quiet characters, stoicism, failure, and misunderstandings. She is interested in peculiar, transitional communities, self-absorbed and on the point of vanishing, which she describes with great deftness, sympathy, and humour.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Sebastian Faulks Biography to Football Milieu