Penelope Fitzgerald

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Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000) has been acclaimed as one of the finest British novelists of the late twentieth century, yet her works have yet to receive the critical attention they deserve. This monograph places Fitzgerald’s fiction and non-fiction in appropriate literary, historical and biographical contexts, taking particular account of the important parts played by her intellectual and artistic education (English at Oxford, reviewing for Punch, scriptwriting for the BBC), by her interests and heroes (English and European literature and art, belief and unbelief, Victoriana, Georgian poetry, John Ruskin, William Morris and George MacDonald, to name a few), and by her father’s family (recounted in Fitzgerald’s The Knox Brothers (1977)) in the shaping of her literary sensibility. The heart of the book, however, is a sustained exposition of Penelope Fitzgerald’s compositional method. My analysis works both inwards from the surface of her writing – noting the crucial importance of the telling detail, timing, allusiveness, omission and highly inventive yet scarcely noticeable uses of free indirect speech – and outwards from the archival evidence of Fitzgerald’s own notebooks, drafts and working papers, which I have studied at the Harry Ransom Research Centre, University of Texas at Austin, and which reveal the fascinating ways in which Fitzgerald compressed, digested and distilled pages of research into her understated, enigmatic fictions. The book consists of seven chapters. An introduction includes a brief biography, an outline of Fitzgerald’s writing career, a discussion of the key intellectual and artistic influences on her work, and a brief overview of her place in twentieth-century British and European fiction. Three short chapters examine her writing as a critic and reviewer, biographer, short-story writer, letter-writer and poet. Two longer chapters explore the style and contexts of her early (autobiographical) and late (so-called ‘historical’) novels. A concluding chapter considers her literary reputation, the afterlife of her works and their influence on other writers. The book is 50,000 words in length.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLiverpool
PublisherLiverpool University Press
Number of pages175
ISBN (Electronic)9781786946218
ISBN (Print)9780746312940, 9780746312957
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2018

Publication series

NameWriters and their Work
PublisherNorthcote House/British Council


  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • novel
  • biography
  • criticism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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