‘I’m sorry I’m late, but my house sank.’ That’s Penelope Fitzgerald, apologising to her students. The leaky, rat-infested barge on which she and her family had been living on the Thames near Chelsea had gone down, taking all their possessions with it.
With such treasures of understated tragicomedy already known to her, Hermione Lee set out to discover the subtle, elusive novelist who was nearly sixty when she began to publish. Lee faced problems quite different from those she encountered in her superb works on Virginia Woolf (1997) and Edith Wharton (2007). Woolf’s self-revelations in diaries and letters could have been overwhelming; Wharton’s dignified reserve was a barrier. Lee triumphed in both.