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Professor Dame Hermione Lee grew up in London and was educated at Oxford. She began her academic career as a lecturer in Williamsburg, Virginia (Instructor, 1970-1971) and at Liverpool University (Lecturer, 1971-1977). She taught at the University of York from 1977, where over twenty years she was Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor of English Literature. From 1998-2008 she was the Goldsmiths' Chair of English Literature and Fellow of New College at the University of Oxford. In 2008 Lee was elected President of Wolfson College, University of Oxford.

Lee is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, a Fellow of the British Academy and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Honorary Fellow of St Hilda's and St Cross Colleges, Oxford. She has Honorary Doctorates from Liverpool and York Universities.

Her numerous works are available online via Vintage, Chatto & Windus, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House Canada, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, or from a variety of quality independent booksellers through localbookshops.co.uk or Book Sense.

 
 

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione LeeHermione Lee
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life

Winner of the the James Tait Black Prize

Available in Paperback from Vintage (UK) & Hardback from Knopf.

Penelope Fitzgerald (1916–2000) was a great English writer, who would never have described herself in such grand terms. Her novels were short, spare masterpieces, self-concealing, oblique and subtle. She won the Booker Prize for her novel Offshore in 1979, and her last work, The Blue Flower, was acclaimed as a work of genius. The early novels drew on her own experiences – a boat on the Thames in the 1960s; the BBC in war time; a failing bookshop in Suffolk; an eccentric stage-school. The later ones opened out to encompass historical worlds which, magically, she seemed to possess entirely: Russia before the Revolution; post-war Italy; Germany in the time of the Romantic writer Novalis.

Fitzgerald’s life is as various and as cryptic as her fiction. It spans most of the twentieth century, and moves from a Bishop’s Palace to a sinking barge, from a demanding intellectual family to hardship and poverty, from a life of teaching and obscurity to a blaze of renown. She was first published at sixty and became famous at eighty. This is a story of lateness, patience and persistence: a private form of heroism.

Loved and admired, and increasingly recognised as one of the outstanding novelists of her time, she remains, also, mysterious and intriguing. She liked to mislead people with a good imitation of an absent-minded old lady, but under that scatty front were a steel-sharp brain and an imagination of wonderful reach. This brilliant account – by a biographer whom Fitzgerald herself admired – pursues her life, her writing, and her secret self, with fascinated interest.

Hermione Lee on Penelope Fitzgerald: "Penelope Fitzgerald: Staying Afloat." The Guardian, 25 October 2013. [Hermione Lee looks back at Fitzgerald's free yet fraught way of life on the Thames in the 60s that would inform her Booker prize-winning novel, Offshore.]

Reviews

Hensher, Philip. The Guardian, 1 November 2013. From the Review: "Hermione Lee has done a superb job, capturing the novelist's elusive personality and telling a complex, sometimes harrowing story."

Wullschlager, Jackie. "Penelope Fitzgerald by Hermione Lee." Financial Times, 1 November 2013. From the Review: "Lee elucidates the depth of [Fitzgerald's] achievement, and ties it enthrallingly to a life and personality more complex and difficult than anyone imagined. Julian Barnes once pinpointed Fitzgerald’s courteous, elusive self-presentation as “a jam-making grandmother who scarcely knew her way in the world”. In a perfect literary biography, Lee plumbs the creative mind beneath that persona, tracing the metamorphosis of messy experience into crystalline art."

"Decoding a singularly English novelist." The Economist, 2 November 2013.

Townshend, Emma. The Independent, 3 November 2013. From the Review: "This book will hold insights and treats for any admirer of her fiction, and recruit converts to this reticent, witty, ferocious champion of the utterly downtrodden."

Shakespeare, Nicholas. The Telegraph, 5 November 2013. From the Review: "[Lee] is excellent on the tensions of living at close quarters with an ineffectual partner, and on the bread and butter of a writer’s existence, at the mercy of publishers who underpay and undervalue."

Roberts, Michèle. The Independent, 8 November 2013. From the Review: "Penelope protected herself by pretending to be a gentle, old-fashioned, absent-minded eccentric. From underneath this woolly disguise she could shoot razor-sharp barbs when necessary. She also wrote penetrating literary criticism, deploying quiet scholarship, wry humour, wisdom and generosity. Lee mirrors her lovingly, and does her lucid justice."

McCrum, Robert. The Guardian, 16 November 2013. From the Review: "Thanks to this sympathetic biography, her afterlife shows signs of becoming finally blessed with understanding, admiration and respect."


Hermione Lee Penelope Fitzgerald KnopfPraise for the U.S. edition of Hermione Lee's Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
(Published by Knopf)

Brownigg, Sylvia. "Hermione Lee: A Profile." NARRATIVE, Fall 2014. (Login required).

Chee, Alexander. "The Lady Vanished." Slate Book Review, November 2014. ["[A] sumptuous biography."]

Hopley, Claire. "Life of a Subtle English Novelist." Washington Times, 14 November 2014. ["Ms. Lee ... has been able to draw on a rich supply of memories and anecdotes, which give her book a freshness usually lacking in biographies of people who have been long dead. Perhaps more significantly as a biographer whose previous subjects include Virginia Woolf, Willa Cather and Edith Wharton, she has an educated sensitivity to the minutiae of the lives of female writers."]

[Interview]. Lee, Hermione. "Penelope Fitzgerald Began Her Esteemed Writing Career at Sixty." The Leonard Lopate Show, 17 November 2014. [Audio available to stream or download.]

Garner, Dwight. "The Editor’s Daughter, Tempered by Homelessness, Picks Up Her Pen." New York Times, 18 November 2014. ["[Fitzgerald] was nobody’s ditsy aunt. She was a steely woman who lived a strange and altogether remarkable life, one that Hermione Lee unpicks with sympathy and wit in “Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life,” her excellent new biography."]

Schiff, Stacy. "Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermione Lee." New York Times (Sunday Book Review), 21 November 2014. ["Lee’s delicate portrait is entirely in keeping with the spirit of a woman who sneaks the line “Writers’ families, in small houses, suffer greatly” into an account of her father’s early career, otherwise known as her childhood."]

Scurr, Ruth. "First War, Then Marriage." Wall Street Journal, 21 November 2014. ["In “Penelope Fitzgerald,” Ms. Lee is as direct as she can be about the episodes and phases of life that Fitzgerald preferred to pass over in silence. Her research is meticulous. She has combed the drafts of unfinished work, publisher’s internal memos, private letters, reviews and more."]

Wood, James. "Late Bloom." The New Yorker, 24 November 2014. ["The private story is much stranger and sadder and more haphazard, as Hermione Lee’s remarkable biography “Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life” (Knopf) reveals. The story that Lee’s book tells (or tries to tell, because much evidence has been obscured or lost) is not about patience on a monument but about talent buried under a heavy plinth, and discovered only just in time—the late achievement less a measured distillation than a lifesaving decoction."]

Hollinghurst, Alan. "The Victory of Penelope Fitzgerald." New York Review of Books, 4 December 2014. ["Lee's book is a championing critical biography giving richly illuminating consideration to each of Fitzgerald’s undefinable books, and it can be forgiven for its refusal to find any fault with them."]

 

    

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Last update: 22 November 2014

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