Falling in Love with Penelope Fitzgerald
Updated: Mar 19
Penelope Fitzgerald always wanted her children to be well-educated, to study foreign languages, to be employable. In her biography of Penelope Fitzgerald, Hermione Lee writes, “Her driving ambition for them was that they should all be able to earn their living, should be as well educated as possible, and should be bilingual… ‘Then they need never starve because they could be teachers of languages.’”
This is also what Fitzgerald wanted for herself. Her work as a teacher was often the family’s primary income and we see the results of her enthusiasm for languages: “Her own French, German and Italian were good, and she was trying to learn Russian and Chinese in the 1960s.”
How often are our deepest wishes for our children really our dearest dreams for ourselves? How often is what we want for our children also an expression of our Moon’s whims and desires? With a 5th house* Virgo Moon, mastering meaningful skills is Penelope Fitzgerald’s heart’s pleasure.
As a fellow info-gatherer (Fitzgerald and I both have Gemini rising*), I admire Fitzgerald’s pursuit of knowledge, but I fell in love with her through Lee’s descriptions of her books and notebooks:
“This is the battered, much-used library of a working woman, mostly dog-eared paperbacks stuffed full of notes, marks, clippings and reviews, their margins annotated all through in Fitzgerald’s clear, italic handwriting. They are the teaching texts of an enormously conscientious person, with (as she said of herself) an unshakeable Evangelical work ethic.”
Plus, I'm a firm advocate for underlining and exclaiming and writing in books, so I appreciate that Fitzgerald “often waxes eloquent in her margins.”
And the idea of her notebooks and books, frequently described by Lee as “bulging with information,” brings me exquisite joy. Imagine her Morris and Burne-Jones books, “bulging with clippings, cards and bits of Morris fabric.” They must be an information-gatherer’s paradise.