Thursday, October 30, 2008

Penelope Fitzgerald

Am excited about obtaining Penelope Fitzgerald's posthumously collected letters. She always nurtured tender feelings for William Morris (the Utopian designer) and wrote about him indulgently. The Morris fabric in the photo above seemingly encouraged the dust jacket designers to adapt other Morris ornaments for the typography, which I take to be a thoughtful tribute to the author's own taste. I recently finished Fitzgerald's collected journalism and essays issued in 2003 as The Afterlife. Below is part of a short piece from that volume, a piece she put together after the usual request to try and explain herself.

Why I Write

First, because something inside me compels me to tell stories. I mean that I get great satisfaction out of making people believe that this event happened at that time. Unlike history, fiction can proceed with confidence.

For example: a few years ago we were living on a Thames barge, and on the boat next door lived an elegant young male model. He saw that I was rather down in the dumps, a middle-aged woman shabbily dressed and tired, and he took me on a day-out to the sea, to Brighton. We went on all the rides and played all the slot machines. We walked for a while on the beach, then caught an open-top bus along the front. What happiness!

A few days later he went back to Brighton, by himself, and walked into the sea until it had closed over his head and he drowned. But when I made him a character in one of my books, I couldn't bear to let him kill himself. That would have meant that he had failed in life, whereas really, his kindness made him the very symbol of success in my eyes.