english literature

– Quello che sto cercando di farti capire, – continuò lui, irritato – è che la carne che mangiavi pochi minuti fa è la stessa che sta provando a comunicare con noi quaggiù.

Il vodsel si curvò per terra, cancellando con la mano le impronte strascicate del suo furioso compagno. La sacca dello scroto svuotata, ancora sporca di sangue secco della castratura, oscillava avanti e indietro mentre lui spianava il suolo e spazzava via frammenti di paglia. Poi accostò una manciata di fili di paglia più lunghi e li unì insieme, li avvitò e li avvilupò per formare una bacchetta rigida, e iniziò a disegnare sul terreno.

– Guarda! – fece Amlis.

Isserley si voltò, angustiata, mentre il vodsel scarabocchiava conimpegno una parola di cinque lettere, avendo pure l’accortezza di disegnarle capovolte, in modo da renderle leggibili per chi si trovava dall’altra parte del recinto.

– Nessuno mi aveva detto che hanno una lingua, – si meravigliò Amlis, troppo stupefatto, sembrava, per arrabbiarsi. – Mio padre li descriveva sempre come vegetali che camminano su due gambe.

– Ma cosa significa? – insistette Amlis.

Isserley osservò il messaggio, che diceva PIETA’.



June 3, 2004

A modest mistress of words

From The Times September 10, 1986

Caroline Moorhead

Penelope Fitzgerald is not the lucky kind of writer to whom subjects come naturally, headon, without ambiguity. Rather, they crop up unexpectedly, sneak up on her out of other matters, arrive when least expected. Innocence, published this week, might never have come to her at all had she not decided to spend a few spring weeks in Florence, with the idea of identifying the flowers in Botticelli’s Primavera, and found herself instead absorbed in the marital squabbling of a contessa with whom she was lodging and her doctor husband from the south of Italy.

The flowers turned out disappointing: Botticelli had left them to assistants with no keen eye for botany – though the absence from the painting of the wild iris, now to be found all over the place, made her speculate, with a true scholar’s curiosity, about the date it was introduced to Italy – and she discovered that the university gardens, supposed to contain an example of every Tuscan plant, had been given over to vegetables instead. However, the contessa’s quarrels provided her with another sort of thread, and Innocence came to be written about ‘people who don’t fit too well – as many don’t, I suppose’.

Though convincingly Italian in feeling, Innocence is not based on detailed research, over-attention to such matters. ‘I don’t think novels are about information’, she says. ‘If you wanted to know about Florence, you’d read a guide book. ‘ She was more worried about getting the Italians right, as people, not comic characters with funny accents.

Penelope Fitzgerald is one of those rare people who discovers a real talent only when well into middle age. In the Fifties she helped edit a literary magazine called World Review, but it was not until her husband fell ill 10 years ago that she thought to entertain him by writing ‘what, in my opinion, men most like reading: thrillers and history’. The first two books were a biography of Burne-Jones – whose red and pink glass windows at Birmingham Cathedral were the first things in her life that had struck her as beautiful – and what she insists on calling a ‘mystery’, as if the word ‘thriller’ were to give it too much dignity, centred around the Tutankhamun exhibition, which she has always suspected was made up not of original objects but of fakes. Thinking she stood more chance with a publisher not known for its crime list, she took it to Duckworth, who had not got one, but who accepted her book.

Then she moved towards straight fiction. ‘In spite of being so old and of such a literary family, I was very green. I didn’t know you were supposed to write five thrillers before readers knew you. Anyway, I couldn’t think of four more. ‘

Among the literary family was her father, E. G. V. Knox, editor of Punch, and the Catholic priest and writer Ronald Knox, and later she turned to a biography of the family. She wonders now why literature did not seem obvious to her earlier, instead of a somewhat haphazard progression from Somerville College to wartime work in the Ministry of Food and then the BBC. After the war, married and soon mother of three children, she stayed at home, living at Chelsea Reach on a houseboat until it sank.

In 1979, Penelope Fitzgerald won the Booker Prize for fiction, with her second novel, Offshore. It has altered her life considerably. It was the year the prize money reached pounds 10,000, awarded free of tax, and though she was embarrassed to find herself lined up in a row at the prize-giving as if still at school, with Kingsley Amis in the queue nearby, it has made her life as a novelist more possible. But she has not given up the coaching at Westminster Tutors, to which she says she is addicted: ‘Perhaps I ought to stop. I’m an impostor, you know. I have no certificate. Anyway, I’m like wine in a bottle: I think I’m deteriorating. ‘

About her plans and about the future she is, as on all topics, modest. Penelope Fitzgerald has that endearing combination of extreme self-deprecation and the natural sharpness of someone whose entire life has revolved around intelligence and the use of the mind. She has just completed a number of introductions for Virago books and says that, while she pictures other writers dashing theirs off between coming back from the theatre and going to bed, she takes ages to do hers and worries incessantly about whether they are good enough. A plan to write a biography of L. B. Hartley, who was a friend, may be abandoned as may all biography, which she says has become alarmingly competitive.

What there will be, though, is another novel. To get going, she needs a title, a first paragraph and a feeling about how the book will end. After that, it is endless work, on old envelopes, losing bits, enjoying best of all the dialogue, which she sees as the moment in a novel when ‘you feel close to the people and hear their voices’. Not, however, conversation, which she finds hard, and for which she admires Lawrence, who made it sound easy to do.

Penelope Fitzgerald divides her time between three rooms at the top of a friend’s house near St John’s Wood, with an old-fashioned gas-fire and postcards pinned to the walls, and her older daughter’s house in Somerset. ‘I don’t really know where I live. It doesn’t worry me. I know it’s become immoral not to be busy, but I think I like pottering. ‘ In Somerset, she is in charge of the garden. ‘Gardening, I think, is even worse than writing. There’s all that worry about things not being out and vegetables not doing what they ought to do. ‘

Everything in the world began with a yes.
One molecule said yes to another molecule
and life was born. But before prehistory 
there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes.
Clarice Lispector



I tell you. I fell in love with a tree. I couldnt’ not. It was in blosssom.

The Whole Story and other stories, Ali Smith

L’esergo al libro  e l’ inizio di uno dei più bei racconti – è possibile innamorarsi di un albero?  
Secondo Ali Smith: sì.

girlmeetsboyHeavenly creatures
A long time ago, on the island of Crete, a girl called Iphis was raised as a boy to save her life. But then she fell in love – with another girl.

Ali Smith brings Ovid’s most joyful myth into the modern age.

From the publisher: “Girl Meets Boy” – It’s a story as old as time. But what happens when an old story meets a brand new set of circumstances?Ali Smith’s re-mix of Ovid’s most joyful metamorphosis is a story about the kind of fluidity that can’t be bottled and sold.It is about girls and boys, girls and girls, love and transformation, a story of puns and doubles, reversals and revelations.Funny and fresh, poetic and political, “Girl Meets Boy” is a myth of metamorphosis for the modern world.

Pubblicato nel 2007, questo romazo “metamorfico” esplora uno dei temi più cari alla scrittrice scozzese: come l’amore sia indifferente a genere, cliché culturali e, non ultime, aspettative pubbliche e private. Un inno alla libertà individuale che trae ispirazione dalla mitologia classica.

penelope fitzgerald



La casa sull’acqua, Penelope Fitzgerald, Sellerio

ed. orig. 1979

traduzione dall’inglese di Masolino D’Amico

recensione pubblicata da L’Indice 


Vincitore del prestigioso Booker Prize 1979, La casa sull’acqua di Penelope Fitzgerald è un romanzo scarno ed ellittico. In meno di duecento pagine, viene tratteggiata la vita di una eccentrica comunità che, nel pieno degli anni sessanta, si ostina a vivere nelle ultime barche sul Tamigi riattate ad abitazione. Gli abitanti di Battersea Reach si identificano a tal punto con le loro case natanti, da percepire ogni falla e ogni incrostazione delle imbarcazioni, come “punti deboli” dei loro corpi. Sono individui anfibi, creature che non appartengono né all’acqua né alla terraferma. In balìa dei moti della marea, essi sono come avvolti da un’umida e vischiosa indefinitezza. Duali e indecisi, si dibattono tra sogni e quotidianità. Nenna, la protagonista femminile, è innamorata per metà del marito che vive in un sobborgo di Londra. Willis, il pittore di marine, è mezzo artista e mezzo scaricatore di porto. L’omosessuale Maurice permette a un malvivente di usare la sua barca come deposito di merci trafugate affinché il senso del rischio e dell’abiezione bilancino la sua fragile diversità. Le scene della vita di bordo sono descritte con dovizia di particolari, ma il realismo che ne risulta si amalgama impercettibilmente con una fantasiosa visionarietà. I battelli assumono la forte valenza metaforica dell’irresolutezza, tema centrale del romanzo che racconta il fluire stesso della vita.

Il romanzo ha un impianto episodico, quasi privo di intreccio (l’azione si condensa tutta nelle ultime trenta pagine), e il finale è talmente aperto da suscitare un senso di incompletezza. Interrogativi e nodi irrisolti si accavallano l’uno sull’altro per offrire al lettore momenti di intensa riflessione. Tra improvvise epifanie e miniaturistiche descrizioni di gesti quotidiani, Fitzgerald sviluppa i personaggi a tutto tondo, svelandone i più remoti stati d’animo con tratti rapidi e sicuri. I personaggi si rivelano anche attraverso il non detto e il sottinteso, in una prosa che predilige il taglio obliquo, la visione repentina e il dialogo frammentato. Il suo arsenale stilistico è tanto vario quanto originale: l’uso del punto di vista multiplo e il passaggio dal discorso diretto a quello indiretto, l’introduzione improvvisa di eventi sorprendenti, la commistione di comico e drammatico, il gusto per l’aneddoto e per le parlate locali ricorrono in misura diversa in tutti i suoi romanzi, senza mai cadere nell’artificiosità formale.


Ancor più singolare è il corso della carriera letteraria della scrittrice che ha pubblicato il suo primo romanzo, Il fanciullo d’oro (1977; Sellerio, 2000), all’età di sessanta anni. Da allora sino all’anno della sua scomparsa, avvenuta nell’aprile del 2000, ha scritto dodici romanzi, tutti accolti dalla critica inglese e americana con entusiasmo. In questo breve tempo ha esplorato generi diversi, dal romanzo autobiografico La libreria (1978; Sellerio, 2000) a quello a sfondo storico Il fiore azzurro (1980; Sellerio, 1993), a quello biografico Charlotte Mew: And her Friends (1984). L’esplosione tardiva di un così ricco talento narrativo è tanto inspiegabile quanto la scarsa popolarità della scrittrice nel nostro paese, dove i suoi romanzi sono appannaggio di una cerchia ristretta di cultori.


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