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The Prescription

Penelope Fitzgerald, 2 December 1982

... After​ Petros Zarifi’s wife died his shop began to make less and less money. His wife had acted as cashier. That was all over now. The shelves emptied gradually as the unpaid wholesalers refused to supply him with goods. In his tiny room at the back of the shop he had, like many Greek storekeepers, an oleograph in vivid colours of his patron saint, with the motto Embros – Forward! But he had now lost all ambition except in the matter of his son Alecco ...

Kay Demarest’s War

Penelope Fitzgerald, 17 September 1987

The Other Garden 
by Francis Wyndham.
Cape, 106 pp., £9.95, September 1987, 0 224 02475 2
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The Engine of Owl-Light 
by Sebastian Barry.
Carcanet, 390 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 85635 704 9
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A Singular Attraction 
by Ita Daly.
Cape, 144 pp., £10.95, August 1987, 0 224 02438 8
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Cold Spring Harbor 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 182 pp., £10.95, July 1987, 0 413 14420 8
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The Changeling 
by Catharine Arnold.
Hodder, 223 pp., £9.95, July 1987, 0 340 40542 2
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... In The Other Garden Francis Wyndham manages a classic form, the first-person novella, with great delicacy and originality. His first person, as in his collection of short stories Mrs Henderson, is a gentle, helpful, observant boy growing up during the Second World War, a boy who is eventually bewildered by what human beings do to each other. He seems reluctant to define himself and Wyndham never gives him a name ...

The Real Johnny Hall

Penelope Fitzgerald, 3 October 1985

Our Three Selves: A Life of Radclyffe Hall 
by Michael Baker.
Hamish Hamilton, 386 pp., £13.95, June 1985, 0 241 11539 6
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... When The Well of Loneliness came out in July 1928 the reviewers were not astonished. Both Leonard Woolf and L.P. Hartley thought the book sincere, but overemphatic. The Times Literary Supplement also called it sincere, and Vera Brittain said it was ‘admirably restrained’. It sold quite well, going into a second impression, and Radclyffe Hall, with her lover Una Troubridge, thought of taking a cottage in Rye ...

Vous êtes belle

Penelope Fitzgerald, 8 January 1987

Alain-Fournier: A Brief Life 1886-1914 
by David Arkell.
Carcanet, 178 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 85635 484 8
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Henri Alain-Fournier: Towards the Lost Domain: Letters from London 1905 
translated by W.J. Strachan.
Carcanet, 222 pp., £16.95, November 1986, 0 85635 674 3
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The Lost Domain 
by Henri Alain-Fournier, translated by Frank Davison.
Oxford, 299 pp., £12.95, October 1987, 0 19 212262 2
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... By the time he was 20 Henri Fournier wasn’t able to say whether it was the country itself that he missed – Epineuil-le-Fleuriel, in the heart of the old Berry province – or the time that he spent there. He shared his country schoolhouse childhood with his young sister Isabelle and their most intense memory was the arrival, at the end of the year, of the livres de prix ...

Megawoman

Penelope Fitzgerald, 13 October 1988

Olive Schreiner: Letters. Vol. 1: 1871-1899 
edited by Richard Rive.
Oxford, 409 pp., £30, February 1988, 0 19 812220 9
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... Rebecca West said that Olive Schreiner was a ‘geographical fact’. Others were reminded of a natural force, admired and dreaded, unchecked by illness, war or poverty, something new coming out of Africa. To fit her into the history of South Africa, of literature or of women’s movements is an exhausting business. ‘The day will never come when I am in the stream,’ she said ...

Russian Women

Penelope Fitzgerald, 1 June 1989

On the Golden Porch 
by Tatyana Tolstaya, translated by Antonia Bouis.
Virago, 199 pp., £12.95, May 1989, 1 85381 078 9
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Balancing Acts: Contemporary Stories by Russian Women 
edited by Helena Goscilo.
Indiana, 337 pp., $39.95, April 1989, 0 253 31134 9
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... Tatyana Nikitichna, her publishers keep reassuring us, is ‘descended from the Tolstoys’ – that’s to say, from Aleksey Tolstoy, not the one who wrote nonsense verse (with two cousins) under the name of Kuzma Prutkof, but the one who wrote The Road to Calvary. But none of this has any bearing on her brilliant success. That came in 1986, three years after she had begun to appear in print, with her story ‘Peters ...

Ninjo

Penelope Fitzgerald, 28 January 1993

Kitchen 
by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Megan Backus.
Faber, 150 pp., £12.99, January 1993, 9780571167906
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... Banana Yoshimoto contributes a respectful preface to her book, dedicating it to her publisher, and thanking the manager of the restaurant where she supported herself while she was writing it and the professors who voted her a prize – ‘it made me so very happy.’ This dutifulness sounds traditional. Traditional, too, when you get to the novellas themselves, are the violent emotions restrained within cramped but manageable limits and the compelling need for analogy between the human predicament and the natural world ...

White Nights

Penelope Fitzgerald, 11 October 1990

In the beginning 
by Irina Ratushinskaya, translated by Alyona Kojevnikov.
Hodder, 320 pp., £14.95, March 1990, 9780340416983
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Goodnight 
by Abram Tertz (Andrei Sinyavsky), translated and introduced by Richard Lourie.
Viking, 364 pp., £14.99, April 1990, 0 670 80165 8
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Comrade Princess: Memoirs of an Aristocrat in Modern Russia 
by Ekaterina Meshcherskaya.
Doubleday, 228 pp., £12.95, February 1990, 0 385 26910 2
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... Irina Ratushinskaya was 28 when she was arrested on her way to work on an apple farm and sent to the Small Zone section of a Mordavian labour camp. She was imprisoned on account of her poetry (or rather, the ‘creation and dissemination of anti-Soviet materials in poetic form’), and was released on account of it. No, I’m not afraid and Pencil Letter were translated and circulated in the West, and when the concern and pressure on her behalf reached a certain point she was allowed to emigrate with her husband to England ...

Nuthouse Al

Penelope Fitzgerald: Memory and culture in wartime London, 18 February 1999

Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London 
by Jean Freedman.
Kentucky, 230 pp., £28.50, January 1999, 0 8131 2076 4
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... I began this study with the fairly simple idea of “the finest hour” ’ Jean Freed man says: ‘Greer Garson as Mrs Miniver singing bravely in the bombed-out church, Winston Churchill’s broadcast inspiring and uniting people in all parts of the country’ – that’s to say, with two fictionalisations, at quite different levels, of what may or may not have happened ...

Obstacles

Penelope Fitzgerald, 4 July 1996

Edward Thomas: Selected Letters 
edited by R. George Thomas.
Oxford, 192 pp., £30, March 1996, 0 19 818562 6
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... It would be quite possible to read about Edward Thomas and wonder how it was that so many people made such allowances for him. A man who had a house built for himself and then refused to live in it, he tormented his wife and children with his restlessness – he calculated he was never happy for more than a quarter of an hour in the day. Two women, his wife Helen and the good-hearted but overwhelming Eleanor Farjeon, spoiled him as much as they dared ...

Chilly

Penelope Fitzgerald, 9 February 1995

The Film Explainer 
by Gert Hofmann, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Secker, 250 pp., £9.99, January 1995, 0 436 20232 8
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... At the age of 48, after thirty years of lecturing on German literature and writing radio plays, Gert Hofmann began to produce disconcerting novels. Michael Hofmann, his son, the poet, confronted him head-on in his collection, Acrimony, and in 1987 wrote in the LRB (25 June) about the second of the novels to be translated into English, Our Conquest. This covers the first two days of peace in a small town in Germany, and follows an ambiguous group of children, free at last to get out of the cellars and poke round the secrets of their own streets ...

What’s Happening in the Engine-Room

Penelope Fitzgerald: Poor John Lehmann, 7 January 1999

John Lehmann: A Pagan Adventure 
by Adrian Wright.
Duckworth, 308 pp., £20, November 1998, 0 7156 2871 2
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... The first volume of John Lehmann’s autobiography, published in 1955, starts: When I try to remember where my education in poetry began, the first image that comes to mind is that of my father’s library at the old family home of Fieldhead on the Thames. It is an autumn or winter evening after tea, for James the butler has been in to draw the blinds and close the curtains, and my father is reading under a green-shaded lamp ...

Dear Sphinx

Penelope Fitzgerald, 1 December 1983

The Little Ottleys 
by Ada Leverson and Sally Beauman.
Virago, 543 pp., £3.95, November 1982, 0 86068 300 1
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The Constant Nymph 
by Margaret Kennedy and Anita Brookner.
Virago, 326 pp., £3.50, August 1983, 0 86068 354 0
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The Constant Novelist: A Study of Margaret Kennedy 1896-1967 
by Violet Powell.
Heinemann, 219 pp., £10.95, June 1983, 0 434 59951 4
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... Ada Leverson (1862-1933) said she had learned about human nature in the nursery. A little brother got her to help him make a carriage out of two chairs, but when he was taken out in a real carriage he was not in the least interested. Certainly she never under-estimated the human capacity for imagination or for disappointment. The nursery was in lavish 21 Hyde Park Square, and her father was a successful property investor ...

Keeping warm

Penelope Fitzgerald, 30 December 1982

Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner 
Chatto, 311 pp., £15, October 1982, 0 7011 2603 5Show More
The Portrait of a Tortoise 
by Gilbert White and Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Virago, 63 pp., £3.50, October 1981, 0 86068 218 8
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Sylvia Townsend Warner: Collected Poems 
edited by Claire Harman.
Carcanet, 290 pp., £9.95, July 1982, 0 85635 339 6
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Scenes of Childhood and Other Stories 
by Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Chatto, 177 pp., £6.50, September 1981, 0 7011 2516 0
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... Sylvia Townsend Warner expected her correspondence to be published, indeed she sensibly provided for it. ‘I love reading Letters myself,’ she told William Maxwell, her literary executor, ‘and I can imagine enjoying my own.’ She was born in 1893, an only child. Her father was a Harrow master, who, in a way not very complimentary to his profession (but quite right for STW), never sent her to school ...

Various Woman

Penelope Fitzgerald, 2 April 1987

A Voyager Out: The Life of Mary Kingsley 
by Katherine Frank.
Hamish Hamilton, 333 pp., £14.95, February 1987, 0 241 12074 8
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Marilyn 
by Gloria Steinem and George Barris.
Gollancz, 182 pp., £12.95, February 1987, 0 575 03945 0
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Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love 
by Roger Kahn.
Sidgwick, 268 pp., £10.95, March 1987, 0 283 99427 4
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I leap over the wall 
by Monica Baldwin and Karen Armstrong.
Hamish Hamilton, 308 pp., £4.95, March 1987, 9780241119747
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Diary of a Zen Nun: A Moving Chronicle of Living Zen 
by Nan Shin (Nancy Amphoux).
Rider, 228 pp., £5.95, January 1987, 9780712614320
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... Mary Kingsley, the traveller – not the explorer, she said, because there wasn’t anywhere she went in West Africa where Africans hadn’t been before her – was and is described as a splendid woman. I don’t know at what point the word ‘splendid’ acquired its present shade of meaning and became something that a woman would rather not be called ...

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