Review: Hermione Lee’s ‘Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life’

January 11, 2015 12:00 PM

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Review: Hermione Lee’s ‘Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life’

Few of us will ever manage such dramatic rebirths as did Penelope Fitzgerald (1916-2000), who never published a book until she was just shy of 60 — yet became one of Britain’s most admired novelists. Her tragicomic masterpieces, such as The Beginning of Spring and The Blue Flower, are concise, beautifully composed accounts of ordinary people stoically facing up to life’s confusions and defeats. In several ways, the contemporary American writer Fitzgerald most resembles is Marilynne Robinson. She’s that good, that distinctive, albeit with a far livelier sense of the human comedy.

Fitzgerald was born into a remarkable family. Her father, E.V. Knox, edited Punch, the English humor magazine. Her uncles included the saintly Wilfred Knox, who worked as an Anglican priest among the poorest of the poor; Dillwyn Knox, atheist, classicist and Britain’s chief code breaker; and Ronald ...

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