bookshelves: radio-4, published-2013, london, lifestyles-deathstyles, lit-richer, books-about-books-and-book-shops
Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from November 30 to December 06, 2013
BBC Description: Penelope Fitzgerald's novels were short, spare masterpieces, self-concealing, oblique and subtle. She won the Booker Prize for her novel Offshore in 1979, and her last work, The Blue Flower, was acclaimed as a work of genius.
The early novels drew on her own experiences - a boat on the Thames in the 1960s, the BBC in war-time, a failing bookshop in Suffolk, an eccentric stage-school. The later ones opened out to encompass historical worlds which, magically, she seemed to possess entirely: Russia before the Revolution, post-war Italy, Germany in the time of the Romantic writer Novalis.
Fitzgerald's life is as various and as cryptic as her fiction. It spans most of the twentieth century, and moves from a Bishop's Palace to a sinking barge, from a demanding intellectual family to hardship and poverty, from a life of teaching and obscurity to a blaze of renown.
She was first published at sixty and became famous at eighty. This is a story of lateness, patience and persistence - a private form of heroism.
Loved and admired, and increasingly recognised as one of the outstanding novelists of her time, she remains also mysterious and intriguing. She liked to mislead people with a good imitation of an absent-minded old lady, but under that scatty front was a steel-sharp brain and an imagination of wonderful reach.
This biography by Hermione Lee pursues Fitzgerald's life, her writing, and her secret self, with fascinated interest.
Read by Penelope Wilton Abridged by Libby Spurrier Producer: Joanna Green A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.
1. After an unhappy early school life, Oxford beckons and Penelope flourishes. As part of a set known as Les Girls, she began her writing career with pieces for student magazines.
2. Now editing World Review and living in a large house in Hampstead, the Fitzgeralds appear quite the golden couple. But things begin to fall apart.
3. Desmond is drinking, his career at the Bar has ended and the Thames barge they call home has sunk. Penelope, however, is determined to rebuild their lives.
4. Now living in Almeric Road with Tina and Terence and writing her second novel, The Bookshop, Penelope relives the sometimes painful memories of the family's time in Southwold.
5. Now in her 70s and fiercely independent, Penelope is finally solvent. A familiar face on the Archway Road, in a red anorak, shopping for groceries, she publishes her seventh novel.
Lightbulb moments: her Booker winner 'Offshore' is based on her own time of living on a barge at Battersea Reach, and her first novel 'The Golden Child' is taken from her feelings of the Tuankhamun Exhibition in London 1972.
Impeccable fayre; inspirational, really!...Continua