At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald- 1981 - 192 pages. With a preface by Hermione Lee and an introduction by Simon Callow - 2013
Prior to this month The Beginning of Spring was the fourth novel by Penelope Fitzgerald which I have had the great pleasure of reading. I have posted on her Offshore, then her acknowledged by all masterwork, Blue Flower based on the life of Novalis, one of her numerous short stories, as well as a novel, Human Voices set at the BBC during 1940. I also read Penelope Fitzgerald:A Life by Hermione Lee.
PENELOPE FITZGERALD (1916–2000) was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. She won the
Circle Award in fiction for The Blue Flower, the Booker Prize for Offshore, and three of her novels—The Bookshop, The Gate of Angels, and The Beginning of Spring—were short-listed for the Booker Prize.
At Freddie’s is set in London in 1962 centered on a theater for children. Freddie is the long time manager. The theater focuses on plays by Shakespeare even though the greatest demand for child actors is for commercials, TV and movies. Freddie, a woman past her youth but still quite formidable, fends of bill collectors, male actors with egos, unions, theater critics, benefactors and deals with her employees. Freddie, Freddie Wentworth, is completely devoted to the theater.
She lives at the theater in a dusty room that smells of moth balls She never married, has no children and as far as we know has never had any romantic entanglements . The theater gets help from adult actors and other theaters. The staff includes an unskilled handy man, a dresser that may possibly have some malevolent tendencies. English law requires that students enrolled at the theater have a certain amount of class room teaching. Freddie hires two teachers, both from Northern Ireland. The young students are egomaniacal and mendacious, lying being a theatrical necessity.
At Freddie’s shifts between despair and comedy. I very much enjoyed the narrative observations. I felt I was there at Freddie’s theater backstage.
I hope to read her novel The Bookshop this year.