Spoils of Biography

The family archive contains many of Fitzgerald’s books. I wrote that sentence as flatly as I could, but in fact it makes my biographer’s pulse race wildly. This is the second time in my life I have been given access to such an extraordinary source of knowledge about my subject. I had the good fortune to look at all that remains of Edith Wharton’s magnificent collection, before her books went back to her American home, The Mount, and I made much use of them in my biography of her. Fitzgerald’s collection could not be more different. These are not beautiful, expensively bound, well-ordered books with high-flown dedications from famous fellow authors. No, they are the battered, treasured, much-used library of a working woman, mostly paperbacks, stuffed full of notes, marks, clippings and reviews, written all over from cover to cover in Fitzgerald’s clear, steady, italic handwriting. But these books are like Wharton’s much grander library in this respect: they provide the entry point to a remarkable writer’s reading life.

Hermione Lee on the personal library of Penelope Fitzgerald