In the earliest letters, written to her friend Hugh Lee in 1939 when she was working at Punch, her laconic colleague, the ‘subeditor from Lowestoft’ with his pipe, his ‘permanent flush’ and his passion for gadgets (he ‘has made a penknife and magnifying glass combined’), turns over the course of three or four letters into ‘Lowestoft’, a poignant creation whose frugal life of cheese sandwiches and Fleet Street digs conceal a longing for travel to the South Seas.
For all their intrinsic humour nothing in Fitzgerald’s novels suggests the talent for comedy revealed in her letters. Staying in Rye with Alec Vidler, former dean of King’s College, Cambridge, who was helping her with research for The Knox Brothers, she described the house party to her daughter:a trendy cleric, his dull wife, a long-skirted daughter, going up to read English at Hertford, who evidently hadn’t wanted to come, and Henry James’s manservant (still living in Rye, but with a deaf-aid which had to be plugged into the skirting ) . . . contributing in a loud, shrill voice remarks like ‘Mr Henry was a heavy man – nearly 16 stone – it was a job for him to push his bicycle uphill’ – in the middle of all the other conversation wh: he couldn’t hear.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
The zoo's first Chinese panda
I've had a browser tab open for a week or more on Rosemary Hill's LRB piece on Penelope Fitzgerald's letters. I've linked to a few other reviews already, but each one offers up some new gems!