So I Have Thought of You
This is a collection of Penelope Fitzgerald’s letters and I was particularly anxious to read them, because I knew her. In fact I actually have a letter from her myself, tucked inside my copy of her marvellous biography of the Knox brothers. I’d written to tell her much I had enjoyed that and her novels and her biography of Burne-Jones. That last accounts for where our lives intersected. I met her when I was curator at the William Morris Society.
But I have to admit that when I skimmed through this book, I began to wonder if it should have published. She certainly didn’t write with a eye to publication and was a reticent and private person. I certainly wouldn’t want my own letters published – not that it is ever likely to happen, thank God. And then, too, where I dipped in, some of the letters to publishers seemed a little too mundane to have been worth printing. Certainly she is not one of the great letter- writers, no Keats or Byron, but once I got into their rhythm, I began to appreciate this chronicle of small pleasures (in which the discarding of a flannel is regarded as ‘reckless’) and not so small sorrows. Even the letters to publishers contain some gems. I loved this: ‘Still doggedly going on with the Independent Foreign Fiction awards, only to find that one of the books we’ve got on the short list has been pulped by Macmillan’s already – the whole book business is getting very depressing.’ Yes, indeed. This was 1995 and things haven’t changed.
In the 1970s she complains about old and tired she is, virtually on her last legs – she had two teaching jobs, so no wonder – when actually she had well over twenty years to go and all her great success and acclaim was ahead of her. For one of the marvellous things about Penelope, in the eyes of a middle-aged writer like myself, is that she didn’t even published her first novel until she was sixty.