Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Penelope Fitzgerald

Some time ago, I read The Blue Flower, by Penelope Fitzgerald, which seemed, almost, perfect. It is a historical novel: Novalis, the Romantic poet, is in love with a twelve year-old girl. His love is doomed and tragic. Fitzgerald writes with an absolute minimum of show and a beautiful, unadorned neatness. The writing is delicate, thoughtfully ironic, wry. The third-person voice blends the voices of character and narrator gently and effectively. Her touch is soft and, yet, for this reason, all the more arresting. Michael Hofmann's review, "Nonsense Is Only Another Language," says it right.

This week a nice article, by Hermione Lee, appeared in Guardian - a biography of Fitzgerald, from the same author, is on the way - which gives Fitzgerald's endless and dizzying cleverness a context and shape, outside of her novels. As well as summarising, affectionately, Fitzgerald's life, and family history, Lee describes, with contagious fascination, Fitzgerald's marginalia. Her books, it seems, accumulated her thoughts. As Lee writes:
'Every so often she kicks up her heels. Her copies of Joyce and Beckett (in whom she is deeply interested) are full of little jokes to herself, as when the citizen in the "Cyclops" episode of Ulysses goes out "to the back of the yard to pumpship", and she notes: "Has to pee just like Bloom. We're all human." In Molloy, in the early passage about "Ma", the line "I got into communication with her by knocking on her skull" has the marginal note: "How to communicate with your parents."'
Which reminds me, off-topic but on the subject of the libraries of great authors, of a fascinating website, dedicated, entirely, to Melville's surviving marginalia...

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