Penelope Fitzgerald and the Field of Consciousness

by Larry Lohmann

first published 15 September 2021

Confronting Penelope Fitzgerald's subtleties of style and construction, reviewers of her novels often resort to phrases like "distillation", "economy", "tamped-down force", "magical", "muted power", "the unsaid speaks" and "how is it done?".

But the sense of life that Fitzgerald shares in her brief pages reflects not so much magic as a lifetime of hard thought about power, representation, gender and recognition. In trying to understand how she does it, recent work in postcolonial studies, political ecology, philosophy of mind, anthropology, feminist theory and translation studies can help.

Vindicating the good-natured caution against "undervaluing the labour of the novelist" voiced by Jane Austen more than 200 years ago, Fitzgerald reminds us that what is funny, entertaining and quick to read may also constitute an exercise of the "greatest powers of the mind".