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Penelope (Margaret) Lively Biography

Nationality: British. Born: Penelope Margaret Low in Cairo, Egypt, 1933; came to England, 1945. Education: Boarding school in Sussex, 1945-51; St. Anne's College, Oxford, B.A. (honors) in modern history 1956. Career: Has been presenter for BBC Radio program on children's literature; regular reviewer for newspapers and magazines in England. Awards: Library Association Carnegie Medal, 1974; Whitbread award, 1976; Southern Arts Association prize, 1979; Arts Council National Book award, 1980; Booker prize, 1987. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1985. Agent: Murray Pollinger, 222 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 OB2, England.



The Road to Lichfield. London, Heinemann, 1977; New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

Treasures of Time. London, Heinemann, and New York, Doubleday, 1979.

Judgement Day. London, Heinemann, 1980; New York, Doubleday, 1981.

Next to Nature, Art. London, Heinemann, 1982.

Perfect Happiness. London, Heinemann, 1983; New York, Dial Press, 1984.

According to Mark. London, Heinemann, 1984; New York, Beaufort, 1985.

Moon Tiger. London, Deutsch, 1987; New York, Grove Press, 1988.

Passing On. London, Deutsch, 1989; New York, Grove Weidenfeld, 1990.

City of the Mind. London, Deutsch, 1991.

Cleopatra's Sister. London, Viking, and New York, HarperCollins, 1993.

Heat Wave. New York, HarperCollins, 1996.

Beyond the Blue Mountains. London and New York, Viking, 1997.

Spiderweb. New York, HarperFlamingo, 1999.

Short Stories

Nothing Missing But the Samovar and Other Stories. London, Heinemann, 1978.

Corruption and Other Stories. London, Heinemann, 1984.

Pack of Cards: Stories 1978-86. London, Heinemann, 1986; New York, Grove Press, 1989.

The Five Thousand and One Nights. Seattle, Washington, Fjord Press, 1997.


Television Plays:

Boy Dominic series (3 episodes), 1974; Time Out of Mind, 1976.

Other (for children)

Astercote. London, Heinemann, 1970; New York, Dutton, 1971.

The Whispering Knights. London, Heinemann, 1971; New York, Dutton, 1976.

The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy. London, Heinemann, 1971; as The Wild Hunt of the Ghost Hounds, New York, Dutton, 1972.

The Driftway. London, Heinemann, 1972; New York, Dutton, 1973.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe. London, Heinemann, and New York, Dutton, 1973.

The House in Norham Gardens. London, Heinemann, and New York, Dutton, 1974.

Going Back. London, Heinemann, and New York, Dutton, 1975.

Boy Without a Name. London, Heinemann, and Berkeley, California, Parnassus Press, 1975.

A Stitch in Time. London, Heinemann, and New York, Dutton, 1976.

The Stained Glass Window. London, Abelard Schuman, 1976.

Fanny's Sister. London, Heinemann, 1976; New York, Dutton, 1980.

The Voyage of QV66. London, Heinemann, 1978; New York, Dutton, 1979.

Fanny and the Monsters. London, Heinemann, 1979.

Fanny and the Battle of Potter's Piece. London, Heinemann, 1980.

The Revenge of Samuel Stokes. London, Heinemann, and New York, Dutton, 1981.

Uninvited Ghosts and Other Stories. London, Heinemann, 1984; New York, Dutton, 1985.

Dragon Trouble. London, Heinemann, 1984; New York, Baron, 1989.

Debbie and the Little Devil. London, Heinemann, 1987.

A House Inside Out. London, Deutsch, 1987; New York, Dutton, 1988.

The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree, illustrated by Terry Milne. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick Press, 1994.

Good Night, Sleep Tight, illustrated by Adriano Gon. Cambridge, Massachusetts, Candlewick Press, 1995.

One, Two, Three, Jump!, illustrated by Jan Ormerod. New York, McElderry Books, 1999.


The Presence of the Past: An Introduction to Landscape History. London, Collins, 1976.

Oleander, Jalaranda: A Childhood Perceived. London, Viking, 1994.

Egypt: Antiquities from Above (essay), photographs by Marilyn Bridges. Boston, Little, Brown, 1996.


Critical Studies:

Penelope Lively by Mary H. Moran, New York, Twayne, 1993.

* * *

In addition to a mass of children's novels, short story collections, and historical works, British writer Penelope Lively has to her credit numerous adult novels. The main intellectual preoccupation of these novels has been contingency. In other words, she asks what do we do with the facts that don't get explained by the myths of the family and self-expressive authorship that guide us. Lively has answered her query differently at different times. During the first period of her career, Lively faithfully held that the dominant myth of family must be deconstructed. Even the idea of a dominant myth proved restricting to Lively during her middle period: the narratives of her novels grew exponentially with no narrative dominating. After watching the narratives proliferate, in her most recent period, Lively feared cultural fragmentation, and her most recent three novels have reinstated the realist narrative.

Lively's realist period lasted from The Road to Lichfield (1977) to Next to Nature, Art (1982). Housewife, mother, and history teacher Anne Linton regularly drives the road to Lichfield, where her father is slowly dying in a nursing home. Her father had been a traditional man: an educator; a husband and father of two; a fisherman and outdoorsman. Linton's discovery of her father's extra-marital affair comes as a shock: Was her father a hypocrite? Had she never known her father? Linton deconstructs the myth of the family man to show the irrationality of the ideal, which had led her father to an affair no happier than was his home life. Learning from the past, Anne happily reunites with her estranged husband. What happens when the myth of the family man is not deconstructed? is the question asked in Lively's next book, Treasures of Time (1979). In contrast to Anne Linton, who faces the unpleasant truth about her parents' marriage, the young Kate Paxton is so immersed in the myth of the family that she is blind to her parents' mutual loathing. So completely has the myth of the happy family structured Kate's view of the world that she has repressed a memory of her mother kissing a boy, who wasn't her husband. So completely has the myth of the happy family structured her mother's view of herself that she has repressed the fact that her sister and her husband had truly loved one another. The repressed memories of both women return, however: for Kate Paxton, the repressed returns as irrational jealousy of her fiancé; for Laura Paxton, the repressed returns as uncontrollable grief at her sister's death. The contrast between Lively's representations of Anne Linton and Kate Paxton's responses suggests that the myths of the family must be deconstructed, or else they will lead to senseless violence. What is the artist's responsibility when it comes to myths? asks Lively in her fourth novel, Next to Nature, Art (1982). "The artist's responsibility, so far as I'm concerned, is to himself," says Toby Standish, a central character. As the artists of the Framleigh Creative Study Centre withdraw entirely from the demands of reconstructing a viable narrative, the result is a bunch of casual affairs, superficial production by both students and teachers, and the Centre's relentless pursuit of the Big Buck.

The novels from According to Mark (1984) through City of the Mind (1991) make up Lively's romantic period. All of the deconstruction of her previous period has led her to believe that no myth—realist or romantic—is dominant. Like Linton, Mark Lamming makes a surprising discovery at odds with the public construct of the subject of his current biography. Whereas Linton manages to reconstruct the narrative of her traditional father, Lamming abandons an agreed-upon Gilbert Strong for multiple Gilbert Strongs: Bloomsbury aesthete Strong; Georgian Strong; moralist Strong; plagiarist Strong; jaded husband Strong; earnest lover Strong. "The producer interrupts once to say the balance is good but that the programme is perhaps too fragmentary now, are we skipping about too much, what do you think? And Mark, not really paying attention, shakes his head and says no, he thinks it will work like this." In Moon Tiger, Lively begins to critique her realist preoccupations of prior novels. She locates the novel's center of consciousness in the iconoclastic historical novelist, Claudia Tate, who proves too big for the world around her. Her first love is killed during the War. Her brother marries for convenience. Her conventional daughter proves a disappointment. Now resigned to a nursing home, the elderly Claudia can only remember the joyous episodes of her life as she drifts closer towards death. Rather than succumbing to the disorder that threatens her at the end of her life, Claudia remains driven to narrativize events in her life: as she lies dying, she begins to write a "History of the World." Passing On (1989) chronicles the lives of Helen and Edward, who are coping with the recent death of their domineering mother. Beginning with City of the Mind, the center has failed to hold: there is not London, but Londons. Multiple narratives interweave without unifying into a single vision. One London is that of Matthew Halland, a father, whose divorce has left him without direction, until he falls in love with a woman at first sight. Another London is that of Richard Owen, a Victorian paleontologist. Another London is that of Martin Frobisher, an Elizabethan Arctic explorer; another is that of Rose, a street urchin; yet another is that of Jim, a World War II fire warden. If the drive to discover uncharted territory spurred on the Victorians, Matthew's journey is interior: to find love. None of these Londons is dominant, so there is no agreement on what London is.

After relativizing myths in According to Mark, Moon Tiger, and, especially, City of the Mind, Lively felt it was time to reinstate a realist myth. Cleopatra's Sister (1993), Heat Wave (1996), and Spiderweb (1999) return to the agreed-upon reality of the family—a reality that Lively now worried was under excessive attack by skeptical deconstructionists. In Cleopatra's Sister, Omar Sharif, president of Callimbia, is of mixed cultural parentage: a Callimbian father and a British mother. Sharif's feelings of cultural alienation lead him to commit violent acts, such as overthrowing the Callimbian government, that threaten the lives of Howard Beamish and Lucy Faulkner. One of the least likeable of these deconstructionists is Maurice, the cultural critic of Heat Wave. "'My task is the deconstruction of a myth,' says Maurice." In contrast, his wife, Teresa, is completely absorbed by the demands of her family. Their disagreement over what is meant by "family" leads Teresa's mother, Pauline, to wonder, "Is this the original Eden of the senses or is it a harsh imprisonment?" In contrast to earlier novels in which the characters' absorption in the myth of the family required their repression of alternative feelings, here it is Maurice's casual subversion of his marriage that escalates the violence. His bland acceptance of his extra-marital affair—reviving Pauline's repressed fury at her own philandering husband—provokes Pauline to murder Maurice: "Later, much later, when she tries to recover each moment, she knows that she moved towards him, powered by anger. She has never felt such rage—it came roaring up from somewhere deep within." In Spiderweb, Stella Brentwood is an anthropologist whose task also "is the deconstruction of a myth." Her deconstruction of kinship systems illustrates her skepticism of such institutions, as also later illustrated in her refusal of three marriage proposals. Like Maurice's rude handling of his wife, Brentwood's rejection pains her suitors. Her casual handling of her manic neighbors has even more dire consequences. By giving the boys a place to vent their rage, their repressed fury returns in their murder of her dog—a symbol of her lone attempt to establish bonds. In these most recent works, Lively has warned that the senseless violence of the uncommitted threatens the fragile bonds of civilization.

—Cynthia Cameros

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: C(hristopher) J(ohn) Koch Biography - C.J. Koch comments: to Sir (Alfred Charles) Bernard Lovell (1913– ) Biography