Penelope Fitzgerald

  • Lincoln, England


Penelope Fitzgerald was born in Lincoln on 17 December 1916 and was educated at Somerville College, Oxford. Her father, Edmund Knox, was editor of Punch magazine during the 1930s, and her Uncle, Dillwyn Knox, worked on breaking the Enigma code at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. Her published non-fiction includes a biography of her father and his three brothers, The Knox Brothers, published in 1977, as well as biographies of the painter Edward Burne-Jones and the Edwardian poet Charlotte Mew.

She worked for the BBC during the war and began writing in the 1960s, although her first novel, The Golden Child, was not published until 1977. Her early fiction drew on her own life and working experiences, including a period running a bookshop, which inspired the Booker-shortlisted The Bookshop (1978); time spent living on a barge on the Thames, which she wrote about in Offshore (1979), winner of the Booker Prize; and her experiences teaching at the Italia Conti stage school in London, which gave her the material for At Freddie's, published in 1982.

A number of historical novels set outside England followed, including Innocence (1986), set in Tuscany during the 1950s; The Beginning of Spring (1988), an account of life in Moscow before the 1917 revolution; and The Gate of Angels (1990), set in Cambridge on the eve of the First World War. The Beginning of Spring (1988) and The Gate of Angels (1990) were both shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. Her acclaimed novel The Blue Flower, published in 1995, is a fictionalised account of the life of the German Romantic poet Novalis (Friedrich von Hardenberg), and his love for a twelve-year-old girl. The novel was shortlisted for the Irish Times International Fiction Prize in 1997. The Means of Escape, a collection of short stories previously published in anthologies and newspapers, includes 'Our Lives are Only Lent to Us', a story discovered among the author's papers after her death. The collection was published posthumously in 2000. She was awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize in 1996 in recognition of an outstanding contribution to literature. A collection of non-fiction by Penelope Fitzgerald, A House of Air: Selected Writings, was published in November 2003. An edition of her letters, provisionally entitled Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald is due in 2004.

Penelope Fitzgerald died on 28 April 2000.


Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald
A House of Air: Selected Writings
The Means of Escape
The Blue Flower
The Gate of Angels
The Beginning of Spring
Charlotte Mew and Her Friends
At Freddie's
Human Voices
The Bookshop
The Knox Brothers
The Golden Child
Edward Burne Jones: A Biography


Irish Times International Fiction Prize
Heywood Hill Literary Prize
Irish Times International Fiction Prize
Booker Prize for Fiction
Booker Prize for Fiction
Booker Prize for Fiction
Booker Prize for Fiction

Author statement

'I have remained true to my deepest convictions, I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities which I have done my best to treat as comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?' (Penelope Fitzgerald)