Penelope Fitzgerald & the Exponentially Possible
Barbara Pym wasn’t a Penelope Fitzgerald fan. In a letter to Phillip Larkin, Pym writes, “I read Penelope Fitzgerld’s The Book Shop, shortlisted in 1978, and liked it but thought she should have given us a bit more —filled it out a bit.”
I don’t agree with Pym (whose novels I love and who has her own way of leaving things out). I think Fitzgerald makes every word count so that the story both pulls at you and leaves room for you to imagine and wonder. In Gate of Angels, the spare narrative weaves a spell, so that, inevitably, while Fred Fairly is questioning the existence of the soul in the face of science and reason, mysterious forces are working to bring Daisy and Fred together.
“We all know that there are forces that we do not understand at work in our lives,” write Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick in Coming Home to Myself. Fitzgerald gives play to these forces in Gate of Angels, letting them overpower the foundations of intellect and logic that the male academics at St. Angelicus cling to. As Fitzgerald wrote, “I have grown old, but I haven’t solved the problem of being brought up to believe that reason is the highest human faculty and we should rely on it, and yet finding that when we get to life's most difficult moments, we can’t and don’t.”
Fitzgerald made room in her own mind, and in her fiction, for (as Jim Harrison phrases it) “what’s exponentially possible in reality.”