Monday April 5th, 2010

The Inner Life of a Late Bloomer

penelope1Acclaimed biographer Hermione Lee (Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton) is currently at work on the life of Penelope Fitzgerald (pictured at left). In the Guardian, Lee has a long piece about materials to which she was given access by Fitzgerald’s family:

What I am looking at is a biographer’s dream. There are boxes, shelves and drawers-full of photograph albums, family documents, fragments of early drafts much crossed out and scribbled over, fascinating plot summaries and sketches for stories and novels that never came to fruition, research notes for an unwritten biography of her friend L. P. Hartley and everything from birthday cards and bills to invitations and vaccination certificates.

Fitzgerald’s heavily annotated book collection gets most of the attention in the rest of the essay. Lee is interested, in part, in what it says about the development of a writer who famously started publishing late in life, when she was nearly 60:

Fitzgerald was an evasive character, extremely private, deliberately oblique in interviews. So there are a number of mysteries in her life, areas of silence and obscurity. One of these has to do with “lateness.” How much of a late starter, really, was she? She always said in interviews that she started writing her first novel (The Golden Child) to entertain her husband, Desmond Fitzgerald, when he was ill. But, like many of the things she told interviewers, there is something a little too simple about this. At least one story was published before that first novel, and her archive reveals how much was going on in her interior life before she started publishing.