Penelope Fitzgerald's biography of her remarkable family. 'When I was very young I took my uncles for granted, and it never occurred to me that everyone else in the world was not like them.' In this, only her second book, Penelope Fitzgerald turned her novelist's gaze on the quite extraordinary lives of her father and his three brothers. A masterly work of biography, within which we see Penelope Fitzgerald exercising her pen magnificently before she began her novel-writing career. Edmund Knox, her father, was one of the most successful editors of Punch. Dillwyn, a Cambridge Greek scholar, was the first to crack the Nazi's message decoding system, Enigma, and in so doing, is estimated to have shortened the Second World War by six months. Wilfred became an Anglo-Catholic priest and an active welfare worker in the East End of London. Ronald, the best known of the four during his lifetime, was Roman Catholic chaplain to Oxford University's student body, preacher, wit, scholar, crime-writer and translator of the Bible. A homage to a long-forgotten world and a fascinating account of the generation straddling the divide between late Victorian and Edwardian.
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Penelope Fitzgerald's novels expertly map the unquiet heart. But so, too, do her three biographies, all of which mingle truth and tact, wit and documentary power. The Knox Brothers, first published in 1977, is suffused with rich, right strangeness and sad delight. Fitzgerald begins her group portrait of her father and three uncles a few generations back, establishing on the Knox side a tradition of religious fervor, dominant fathers, and invalid mothers. The Frenches were equally ecclesiastical but not so dour, her great-grandfather Thomas perhaps the most extraordinary of the lot: he ended his days wandering through Arabia preaching Christ's love. (In the end, "agents of the Sultan, who deeply respected the strange old fakir, were deputed to keep watch over him, but they could do nothing when they found him insensible, still with a book in his hand.")
We would gladly spend more time among these ancients, but this is the story of four sons--two of them agnostic, the other two deeply religious--born to Edmund and Ellen Knox between 1881 and 1886. Edmund George Valpy, Fitzgerald's father, would go on to edit Punch under the sobriquet Evoe. Alfred Dillwyn was first a classical scholar and then a world-class cryptographer. Wilfred Lawrence was concerned above all with poverty and inequity and made his life as an Anglo-Catholic priest. And, lastly, Ronald Arbuthnott, too, devoted his life to God, causing great familial distress by converting to Catholicism. (As a young boy, he would perform funeral rites for dead birds while sporting his sister Ethel's "pinafore for a surplice.") Raised in an era in which Anglicanism and Empire held sway, the brothers were blessed with a bright beginning in Leicestershire:
All the children were so happy there that in later years they could cure themselves of sleeplessness simply by imagining that they were back at Kibworth.... They were completely safe in the large nursery at the top of the back stairs, looking down into the kitchen garden, where in memory it was always summer, with the victoria plums ripening on the south wall. Their father mounted his stout horse, Doctor, to set off on his parish visits, and their dearly loved mother waved from an upper window.This is only one beautiful passage among many in The Knox Brothers, and very characteristic as it weaves between sharp description and never-never-land nostalgia. Alas, it also points forward to irreparable change. First their father was granted a larger, less bucolic diocese in industrial Birmingham, and next their mother died too soon, in 1892.
The Knox Brothers is as acute as it is affectionate. Whether Fitzgerald is describing "slumbrous" turn-of-the-century Oxford or an infinitely more advanced Cambridge circa 1903--or Ronnie's 1951 private audience with the Pope, during which these men of the cloth mostly discussed the Loch Ness monster--she effortlessly evokes vanished worlds. She can also paint an entire relationship in a short space. As Dilly lay dying, his wife "nursed him devotedly. These two people had loved each other for twenty years without being able to make each other happy. They would have given the world, now they were at the point of separation, to understand one another." There is everything to savor in such scenes, so revealing of character and (perhaps) class. All four brothers, even as they grew into their separate visions, never lost their love for one another, and worked their wild talents as hard as was humanly possible. About the only enigma these intellectuals and devoted practical jokers could never resolve--and Penelope Fitzgerald makes us wonder if any of us can--was "an inner struggle between reason and emotion, and between emotion and the obligation not to show it." --Kerry FriedAbout the Author:
Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She won the Prize in 1979 for Offshore. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the 'Book of the Year'. It won America's National Book Critics' Circle Award. She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty-three.
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Book Description THE HARVILL PRESS, 1991. Book Condition: Good. New Ed. N/A. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP75617007
Book Description Paperback. Book Condition: Good. The book has been read but remains in clean condition. All pages are intact and the cover is intact. Some minor wear to the spine. Bookseller Inventory # GOR005315918
Book Description Paperback. Book Condition: Very Good. The book has been read, but is in excellent condition. Pages are intact and not marred by notes or highlighting. The spine remains undamaged. Bookseller Inventory # GOR003251773
Book Description Harvill, London, 1991. Paperback. Book Condition: Good+. Harvill 1991; A look at the lives of Edmund, Dillwyn, Wilfred. Ronald. Illustrated, good to very good in paperback; B&W Illustrations; 296 pages. Bookseller Inventory # 20711
Book Description THE HARVILL PRESS. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: Very Good. 0002720973 UK BASED SELLER SHIPS DAILY ALL OVERSEAS VIA AIRMAIL, previous owners inscription. Bookseller Inventory # AAA0008709
Book Description Harvill, London, 1991. Paperback. Book Condition: Fine. 294 pp. Unread copy. The biographies of the four Knox brothers - two were chaplain's at Oxford and Cambridge, one editor of Punch and the other broke the crucial German flag-code in World War I. Bookseller Inventory # 15946
Book Description Harvill, 1991. Couverture souple. Book Condition: bon. In-8. RO60111449: 293 pages. Illustré de photos en noir et blanc hors texte. Edmund, Dillwyn, Wilfred, Ronald. In-8 Broché. Bon état. Couv. légèrement pliée. Dos satisfaisant. Quelques rousseurs Classification Dewey : 420-Langue anglaise. Anglo-saxon. Bookseller Inventory # RO60111449