By the time they reach their sixties, most novelists have produced their best work. But it was not until she was sixty-one that Penelope Fitzgerald began to write, in rapid succession, the novels – each better than its predecessor – that finally culminated, when she was seventy-eight, in her masterpiece, The Blue Flower.
In his excellent introduction to this book, Terence Dooley suggests that her first novel, The Golden Child, was ‘perhaps a false start’. For me, there is no perhaps about it. Although entertaining enough, this comic crime novel gave little hint of the distinction of the books that were to follow. Most of the problem was that its publisher, my cousin Colin Haycraft of Duckworth, always took the view that fiction was something ‘read only by women and queers’, and that therefore the briefer a novel, the better. As a consequence he mutilated Fitzgerald’s original text with such reckless brutality (‘4 characters and 1000s of words had to be cut’, Fitzgerald complains to the publisher Richard Garnett) that, when I was reading it, I often wondered where on earth she was leading me.
It is curious that a publisher so intelligent and discriminating should have treated his author with so much indifference and even contempt. When her second novel, The Bookshop, became the first of her four books to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, he excused himself from accompanying her to the