Authors: Penelope Lively

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Road to Lichfield, 1977

Treasures of Time, 1979

Judgement Day, 1980

Next to Nature, Art, 1982

Perfect Happiness, 1983

According to Mark, 1984

Moon Tiger, 1987

Passing On, 1989

City of the Mind, 1991

Cleopatra's Sister, 1993

Heat Wave, 1996

Beyond the Blue Mountains, 1997

Spiderweb, 1998

The Photograph, 2003

Short Fiction:

Nothing Missing but the Samovar, and Other Stories, 1978

Corruption, and Other Stories, 1984

Pack of Cards: Stories, 1978-1986, 1986

The Five Thousand and One Nights, 1997


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

Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived, A Memoir, 1994

New Writing 10, 2001

A House Unlocked, 2001

Children's/Young Adult Literature:

Astercote, 1970

The Whispering Knights, 1971

The Wild Hunt of Hagworthy, 1971 (pb. in U.S. as The Wild Hunt of the Ghost Hounds)

The Driftway, 1972

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, 1973

The House in Norham Gardens, 1974

Boy Without a Name, 1975

Going Back, 1975

A Stitch in Time, 1976

The Stained Glass Window, 1976

Fanny's Sister, 1976

The Voyage of QV66, 1978

Fanny and the Monsters, 1979

Fanny and the Battle of Potter's Piece, 1980

The Revenge of Samuel Stokes, 1981

Fanny and the Monsters, and Other Stories, 1982 (containing the 3 Fanny stories)

Uninvited Ghosts, 1984

Dragon Trouble, 1984

Debbie and the Little Devil, 1987

A House Inside Out, 1988

The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree, 1994

One, Two, Three Jump!, 1998

In Search of a Homeland: The Story of “The Aeneid,” 2001


Penelope Margaret Lively became one of Britain’s most popular and prolific twentieth century writers. Growing up in Egypt, she received no formal education until the age of twelve when, after her parents divorced, she was enrolled in an English boarding school. Although she hated the school, Lively read widely and eventually obtained a place at Oxford University, where she graduated with a B.A. in modern history in 1954. Following her marriage and the birth of two children, Lively began to write children’s stories, discovering in that genre a scope for exploring her favorite and enduring concern: the complicated relationship between the past and recovery of that past through collective and personal memory.{$I[AN]9810001698}{$I[A]Lively, Penelope}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Lively, Penelope}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Lively, Penelope}{$I[tim]1933;Lively, Penelope}

After publishing her first story, Astercote, in 1970, other children’s books quickly followed. Of these, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, which was awarded a Carnegie Medal, became particularly popular. In that work, Lively describes the experiences of James Harrison, a ten-year-old boy who is blamed for various mysterious occurrences–including breakages and misplaced items–in the old cottage to which his family has recently moved. James discovers that the real culprit is the ghost of a former inhabitant, Thomas Kempe, who is angered by the modernization of the cottage and of the village. James also finds a collection of letters describing the similar experiences of Arnold Luckett, a boy of about his own age, in the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike James, Arnold apparently had little difficulty convincing his elders of the ghost’s existence. Only through the information he gleans from Arnold is James able to exorcise the ghost. Here, as in many of her other children’s stories–most impressively in A Stitch in Time–Lively juxtaposes the attitudes and beliefs of different historical periods to suggest the significance of any one point of view in explaining the world at large. In most cases, the supernatural becomes the medium by which the past shows through the thin fabric of the present.

While continuing to write children’s stories, Lively made the shift toward adult fiction with the publication of The Road to Lichfield. This novel describes the experiences of a middle-aged history teacher, Anne Linton when she discovers that her dying father, whom she regularly visits, has been having an affair for many years. Marked by Lively’s characteristically polished style, The Road to Lichfield, like much of her later work, uses a shifting third-person perspective to portray events–often, as in Moon Tiger, the same event–from a number of different points of view. This technique is strongly reminiscent of Virginia Woolf.

Along with many of her contemporaries–notably Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie, and Graham Swift–Lively displays a fascination for the workings of history and memory. Whether her protagonist is the literary biographer of a 1920’s man of letters, as in According to Mark, or an architect concerned with the impact of his work on the centuries-old architecture of London, as in City of the Mind, Lively is concerned with the palimpsest nature of existence, with the inescapably allusive quality of a present pervaded with a sense of the past. In all of her novels, the world of the mundane is transformed by these perceptual shifts in the consciousness of her characters. Lively’s Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger brilliantly expresses these themes. Here an elderly historian lies on her death bed, creating a “history of the world” that turns out to be the story of her own life, recollected in the fragmented and achronological manner of memory. Claudia Hampton recalls her life in a complex network of flashbacks, many of which focus on the defining experience of her life when during World War II she fell in love in Egypt with a soldier who is later killed in action. In Moon Tiger, through the consciousness of a single character, Lively reveals something about all human beings. Lively’s stylistic and thematic concerns grow out of her deep awareness of, as she phrases it, “what it is like to be human.”

BibliographyJackson, Tony E. “The Consequences of Chaos: Cleopatra’s Sister and Postmodern Historiography.” Modern Fiction Studies 42, no. 2 (Summer, 1996). The theme of historiography in another of Lively’s novels is taken up by Jackson.LeMesurier, Nicholas. “A Lesson in History: The Presence of the Past in the Novels of Penelope Lively.” New Welsh Review 2 (Spring, 1990). LeMesurier discusses generally the influence of the past on Lively’s characters and settings.Lively, Penelope. “An Interview with Penelope Lively.” Interview by Amanda Smith. Publishers Weekly 232, no. 12 (March, 1988). Those interested in hearing what Lively has to say about her own life and work should begin by consulting this informative article.Moran, Mary Hurley. Penelope Lively. New York: Twayne, 1993. Offers brief but useful critical readings of each of Lively’s first nine novels for adults.Moran, Mary Hurley. “Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger: A Feminist ‘History of the World.’” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 11, no. 2/3 (1990). This essay takes a radical feminist approach to Lively’s best-known novel.Raschke, Debrah. “Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger: Reexamining a ‘History of the World.’” ARIEL 26, no. 4 (October, 1995). Examines Lively’s treatment of history and personal identity as unstable. Raschke argues that the novel represents a liberation from the traditional limits of women’s participation in historiography.Smith, Louisa. “Layers of Language in Lively’s The Ghost of Thomas Kempe.” Children’s Literature Quarterly 10, no. 3 (1985). A discussion of Lively’s children’s fiction.
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