From Manchester Guardian
Penelope Fitzgerald, that quiet genius of late-20th-century English fiction, who was born during the Great War at the end of 1916, began to publish in 1975. Over the next quarter of a century, she wrote the nine novels, three biographies (of Edward Burne-Jones, Charlotte Mew and the Knox brothers, her father and uncles), and the many essays and reviews that brought her such critical acclaim and a devoted following. In 1995, her haunting masterpiece, The Blue Flower, made her famous in her 80s. Since her death in 2000, the publication of her stories (The Means of Escape), essays (A House of Air) and selected letters (So I Have Thought of You), brought out by her executor and son-in-law, Terence Dooley, and by HarperCollins, have sustained her posthumous reputation.
Penelope Fitzgerald (1916 to 2006) is the author of The Blue Flower, set in Prussia in the 18th century and centering on Novalis, one of the greatest German Romantic poets. It is the best historical novel I have read since I began my blog in July, 2009. I was very glad to see three of her short stories are included in an anthology of short stories I recently acquired.
"Desideratus" is set in the late 17th century, probably in England. It seemingly simple story with
some baffling turns. A boy in his teen from a large poor family has one great treasure, a medal
his late grandmother gave him. He takes it everywhere and one day he loses it. He finds it in a
pond under a foot of ice. He tries to break the ice but he can't so he realizes the ice will met in a day or so
so and he decides to wait. He goes back and it is gone. He sees a pipe leading to a manor
house so reasons it might be near the house. I will tell one of the mysteries, leaving the odder
deeper one untold. He knocks on the door and a man tells him he is the family tutor. He asks him
how many children are living there. He is told there are none and have never been any as the master
of the house did not reproduce himself. We, as was the boy, are perplexed by why a tutor is needed.
Then something deeply strange happens.
This is a quietly wonderful story. No one will ever list it among the world's greatest but I think it
will stick in my mind for a long time. I will return to her work soon, I hope.