This chapter provides an overview of Penelope Fitzgerald’s life and writing career, showing how her literary sensibility was shaped in different ways by her intellectual and artistic education, her early family life, her career as a teacher and her philosophical and religious beliefs. In answer to the question, ‘How does she do it?’, the chapter suggests that Fitzgerald achieves ‘the simultaneous compression of language and expansion of meaning’ through a distinctive combination of wit, literary compression, and moral purpose. The chapter also touches on Fitzgerald’s place among British and European writers of shorter fiction. It explains the structure of the book, and justifies its method of analysis: namely, the application of Fitzgerald’s critical judgments about other writers to her own work.
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