Fitzgerald's regular bulletins, like Mr Pooter's, involve a good deal of shopping ('I've bought a new vest in M&S'), housework ('It's always a great thing to have the spring cleaning started by Palm Sunday') and brushing her best coat with a damp brush to get rid of hairs that invariably return ('They appear to be growing out of the coat while my back is turned').
She drinks tea in the morning, dyes her hair with teabags and unpicks a pair of red woollen gloves so as to knit them together again. Some of these rites are so arcane it's hard to tell if they are genuinely eccentric or simply the domestic routines of a bygone age.
The highlights are studiously modest. One February, Fitzgerald got an unsigned Valentine card accompanied by '2 bottles of sno-pack for eliminating typing errors'. Invited by the Guardian to name her wishes for the world in 1998, she 'couldn't think of anything except to abolish off-road motoring and have those little packets of salt in crisps again'. Even on the night she won the Booker Prize as an outsider with Offshore, the best moment came, by her own account, when the editor of the Financial Times inspected the cheque and said to Booker's company chairman: '"Hmph, I see you've changed your chief cashier." Both their faces were alight with interest.'
Sunday, August 03, 2008
"Daddy's dirtied up his room already"
I have been enjoying the review coverage of Penelope Fitzgerald's recently released collection of letters. Hilary Spurling's piece at the Observer is particularly good: