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A New York Times Book Review Best Book of the Year
The acclaimed biographer of Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf gives us a vivid, intimate, and critically acute portrait of one of the finest and most understated novelists of the twentieth century.
Penelope Fitzgerald was a great English writer-many say the greatest in recent years-whose career didn't begin until she was nearly sixty. Her life moved from a Bishop's Palace to a sinking barge, from a life of teaching and obscurity to a blaze of renown. Her novels are short, spare masterpieces: subtle and intensely evocative. The early works draw on Fitzgerald's own experiences-working at the BBC in wartime; at a failing bookshop in Suffolk; at an eccentric stage school-while her later books open out into historical worlds that, magically, she seems to entirely possess. Despite the late start of her career, Fitzgerald's books won some of the most coveted awards in literature: the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Hers is a story of lateness, persistence, and redemption. Now, Hermione Lee, a master biographer and one of Fitzgerald's greatest champions, gives us this remarkable author's unforgettable story.
"Hermione Lee has done a superb job, capturing the novelist's elusive personality and telling a complex, sometimes harrowing story." —Philip Hensher, The Guardian (London)
"Thanks to this sympathetic biography, [Penelope Fitzgerald's] afterlife shows signs of becoming finally blessed with understanding, admiration and respect." —Robert McCrum, The Guardian (London)
"Lee elucidates the depth of [Fitzgerald's] achievement, and ties it enthrallingly to a life and personality more complex and difficult than anyone imagined. Julian Barnes once pinpointed Fitzgerald's courteous, elusive self-presentation as 'a jam-making grandmother who scarcely knew her way in the world'. In a perfect literary biography, Lee plumbs the creative mind beneath that persona, tracing the metamorphosis of messy experience into crystalline art." —Financial Times (London)
"Penelope protected herself by pretending to be a gentle, old-fashioned, absent-minded eccentric. From underneath this woolly disguise she could shoot razor-sharp barbs when necessary. She also wrote penetrating literary criticism, deploying quiet scholarship, wry humour, wisdom and generosity. Lee mirrors her lovingly, and does her lucid justice." —The Independent (London)