Monday, March 09, 2009

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.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Deborah Mainwaring said...

Christine,
I have so enjoyed your Reading blog. Its variety of interests provide a wonderful zest, and trigger my own desire to explore books previously unknown to me.

..and this leads me to offer to you the names of two wonderful books of collected letters that I treasure: The Letters of E.B. White (pub. Harper & Row). As you probably know, E.B. White was the author of children's books such as Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. He was also a great essayist for the New Yorker magazine for many years, and was a close friend of James Thurber. His collected letters are the perfect example of clear, accessible writing in a broad stretch of interests. He is also extremely funny.

The other book is The Habit of Being -- Letters of Flannery O'Connor. (Pub.Vintage Books, Random House). O'Connor was an American southern writer (Wise Blood) who had a very brief career and died young. But her letters are extraordinarily strong and wide-ranging in their exploration of religion, philosophy and the humour of living under pressure.(She had an illness that kept her confined to her mother's homestead.)

I hope you might be able to track these letters collections down -- they are both from the 1970s but I would guess still in print.

You would get pleasure from both collections, I am sure.

Best wishes,
Deborah Mainwaring

Monday, 09 March, 2009  
Blogger Christine said...

Thanks so much, Deborah, I was so pleased to get this, and to have these collections recommended. I am always on the lookout for books which might become new favourites. Both of these are in the London Library so I'll get them out next time I go in. E. B. White is also known to me through his little book, THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, which I love. And I was electrified by O'Connor's short story, 'A Good Man is Hard to Find' so I have high hopes of them both.
Please keep in touch.

Thursday, 12 March, 2009  

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