Sunday, April 18, 2010

Speaking of normal artists...

I am not sure whether or not I have posted here about Penelope Fitzgerald before, but I need to do so again regardless.
She has won the Booker Prize and has been nominated for it four times in total. I discovered her entirely haphazardly. I was browsing a used bookstore and picked up a paperback by the same publisher that publishes Byatt's fiction. I looked down and there was a laudatory quote by Byatt for this author. I bought the book. I tried reading it several times over the next four or five years, but could never get into it. Later on I found more mentions of this Penelope Fitzgerald, so I tried to give her another chance with another book of hers (The Bookstore). I LOVED it. Since then I have become a fan of her fiction, without knowing much about her as a person. 

Recently I picked up her published letters, So I Have Thought of You. I have so far read the two introductions and just begun the letters themselves, but am already dying to read the rest. 

Her son-in-law is the compiler and editor of the volume. He writes:

No woman is a hero to her son-in-law, and yet, when I first came across this book [The Bookshop, Pf's first novel] (till then unaware of its very existence) lying in bound-proof form on her kitchen table, where it had been written, and tool advantage of Penelope's temporary absence to read it in one sitting, I did have a sense of 'What? And in out house?' I had no doubt that this was the real thing, and still feel grateful for the stole privilege of being one of the first people to read it. Ever after that Penelope had an extra dimension of mystery to me. I immediately wrote her a note to express my amazed and delighted appreciation; it would have been too embarrassing to confess in person. I was touched, much later, to come across the never-referred-to note among her papers in Texas. 

I thought this was a particularly English (and hysterical) note. But he goes on to describe PF as predominately concerned with her family, and her struggles as an artist of integrity. 

She wrote this beautiful poem for her daughters when they both left for university:

'Autumn: Departure of Daughters'

Oh my dark & light brown daughters
When you go to find new faces
Our place & me are put in our places
Our place my take what name it please --
It stares & stares, and all it sees is
That it is not a home. 
Oh my dark & light brown daughters
When you go to find new places
Our place must face that it has no faces --
Tidiness, emptiness and peace is
All it has, and all it sees is
That it is not a home

PF is delightful, terse, witty, and unflinching. 

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