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So I Have Thought of You: The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald Paperback – 6 Aug 2009
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‘Until a biography of this genius comes along, we have these letters, so ironic, idiosyncratic and beautiful.’ Carmen Callil, Guardian (Book of the Year)
‘Self-deprecating, wry, scatty, very English, it’s something of a cross between Barbara Pym and Stevie Smith. Certainly Fitzgerald, as these letters show, was a modest, reserved person…But her daffy manner was also a useful camouflage. It coexisted with the steely principle, luminous intelligence, professional energy, sharp judgements and stoic rigour that went into the books. The novelist’s comic brio is wonderfully on show.’ Hermione Lee, Sunday Times
'Characteristically short, exquisitely constructed, and saying something extremely important, but something subtle and under-celebrated about the human condition as well…The letters are exciting for what they contribute towards the understanding of Fitzgerald's imagination.' Ruth Scurr, TLS
'No letter is ever perfunctory or ill-phrased…each is written with the same rueful wit, rigorous artistry and undeviating moral sense as her books.' Francis King, Literary Review
‘ “So I Have Thought of You” is among the most illuminating, moving collections of letters that I have ever read. The writing glows with love and wit, intellectual passion, and, above all, the miracle of a writer-in-waiting, endlessly developing and refining the ideas which would eventually shape her fiction. It pulsates, too, with the uncertainty of living, the immediacy of everyday impressions, and insight into the imaginative mind, its hopes and desperations, which are the raw materials of her great novels.' Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times
‘Took her life and her writing seriously, as an opportunity to put across her view of the world.’ Iain Finlayson, The Times (Book of the Year)
‘Fitzgerald’s letters, full of gaiety and exuberance, have been assiduously rounded up by her son-in-law from cupboards and attics. The pleasure of other people’s mail is the trivia and Fitzgerald doesn’t disappoint in this department. This book is crammed with domestic detail and reflections on food and drink, taxes and laws, seasons and landscapes.’ Roger Lewis, Sunday Express
Praise for Penelope Fitzgerald:
‘Of all the novelists in English of the last quarter-century, Penelope Fitzgerald has the most unarguable claim on greatness.’ Philip Hensher
'Stylistically, intellectually and morally Fitzgerald couldn't put a foot wrong if she'd tried. Hers is an impeccable and unique voice not just from another century but another world.' Daily Telegraph
'An intelligent writer, superbly and unfailingly so. Wise and funny, with a dry wit allied to a great emotional sympathy.' Sunday Times
About the Author
Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most distinctive voices in British literature. The prize-winning author of nine novels, three biographies and one collection of short stories, she died in 2000.
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And now the letters. It's true that there aren't many--the ones between Fitzgerald and her husband, for example, went down when her houseboat sank (the adventure on which her book, Offshore is based). But what we have exemplify her at her best. Wry, tender, honest--sometimes curmudgeonly, other times hilarious--they show us the raw talent that percolated until the author was 60 years old.
Buy them, read them, and compare them to the best of the genre: The Collected Letters of Ted Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Merton, Virginia Woolf, and Katherine Mansfield--just to name a few.
In her letters to her daughters Fitzgerald writes about a mother's love and money worries ("...but, yes! You look pale - I do wish you didn't have to work in the vac:- I'm so sick of being poor!), the little daily annoyances ("Freddie scorns me. While I'm fiddling about trying to find my keys he stands on his hind legs and puts his paws on the keyhole in case I don't know where that it."), her thoughts on literature ("...though I would never dare saying it in public, the value of studying literature only really appears as you go on living, and find how it really is like life - that it all works..");
her letters to her friends, the humdrum of daily life (...but I think we middle class ladies are really driving ourselves mad by doing all the things that were formerly done by a 'staff' and keeping up our cultural interests as well..."), housekeeping in general ("...plenty of cupboards, which I am inclined to think are the great secret of home life.) and, very occasionally, her physical ailments ("...rather I feel sorry for my heart which has made such an effort for so long...");
her letters to her editors, her book reviews ("...1. forgiving hostile reviews, 2. not feeling morally superior because you've forgiven them."), other writers ("I don't think he (S Rushdie) ought to go into hiding, though. My local Patel grocery on the corner tells me that it is not a dignified act.") and writing success ("I don't see how a life of Dickens written by someone who has no sense of humour whatever can be a success, but I daresay it will be...") and her letter to other writers, her views on books ("...the writer's favourite books is scarcely ever the same as the public's.")
My favourite letter is one Fitzgerald wrote to her friend Francis King which sums up her various roles in life: "I rather wish I didn't have to be Miss Fitzgerald as it seems to discount my husband, of whom I was very fond, not to speak of 3 children and 2 and a half grandchildren, but I suppose that's an occupational hazard of writing short, powdery novels."
We recognize the same wit in her letters as in her books. But the sharp intellect and penetrating mind we find in THE BLUE FLOWER, THE BOOK SHOP, and in all her books, Fitzgerald had altogether sheathed in her daily life and hidden so well from those around her so that we read her letters and think there's nothing extraordinary there.
Or is there?
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