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The Knox Brothers

Fitzgerald Penelope

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ISBN 10: 0002720973 / ISBN 13: 9780002720977
Verlag: Harvill, London, 1991
Gebraucht Zustand: Good+ Softcover
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Harvill 1991; A look at the lives of Edmund, Dillwyn, Wilfred. Ronald. Illustrated, good to very good in paperback; B&W Illustrations; 296 pages. Buchnummer des Verkäufers 20711

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Bibliografische Details

Titel: The Knox Brothers

Verlag: Harvill, London

Erscheinungsdatum: 1991

Einband: Paperback

Zustand: Good+

Über diesen Titel


From the best-selling author of The Blue Flower, a biography of her father and his brothers, four extraordinary Englishmen who, despite their many differences, seemed to share one heart and soul.

"When I was young," writes Penelope Fitzgerald, "I took my father and my three uncles for granted, and it never occurred to me that everyone else wasn't like them. Later on, I found that this was a mistake, but I've never quite managed to adapt myself to it. I suppose they were unusual, but I still think that they were right, and insofar as the world disagrees with them, I disagree with the world."

Her father was E.V. "Eddie" Knox, known to the literate public as "Evoe," a witty contributor to Punch and, from 1932 to 1945, its tireless editor. Eddie was the eldest son of the Bishop of Manchester, and he and his brothers grew up in a hard-working Evangelical household where comfort counted for little and money for even less. In their adulthood, the boys remained faithful to their father's values of humility, humor, and courage. Above all else, they remained faithful to one another.

Eddie's brothers were Dillwyn, a mathematical genius and a chief code-breaker in both world wars; Wilfred, an Anglo-Catholic apologist and an alarmingly shabby saint; and Ronnie-Monsignor Ronald Knox-the most famous Roman Catholic priest in England. The bond between the four is beautifully evoked here, as is the tension between their family loyalties and their wildly divergent careers and religious beliefs. Here is a biography not only of four remarkable individuals but also of a fascinating family mind, a mind shared by the book's remarkable author, Penelope Fitzgerald.


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 Fried

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