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The Beginning of Spring by Penelope…

The Beginning of Spring (original 1988; edition 2003)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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529919,057 (3.81)64
Title:The Beginning of Spring
Authors:Penelope Fitzgerald
Info:Flamingo (2003), Edition: (Reissue), Paperback, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:pre-revolutionary Russia, Moscow

Work details

The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)

  1. 00
    The vanishing futurist by Charlotte Hobson (wandering_star)
  2. 00
    The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes (shaunie)
    shaunie: Barnes is a huge fan of Fitzgerald and her influence is clear in The Noise of Time.
  3. 00
    The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard (wandering_star)

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There are really two stories in this book - the story of the Reid family, a father and three children whose mother has left without warning or explanation, and the story of pre-revolutionary Moscow in the early twentieth century, with its political fervour, traditional customs and complex social relations. The two stories are brought together in the person of Frank Reid, a Russian-born British printer, who seems always slightly out of place whether people are treating him as English or Russian. The contrast between England and Russia is one of the subtle themes of the book, as is the difficulty of two people ever really understanding each other. Perhaps these two themes go some way to explaining Frank's wife's mysterious disappearance.

Frank walked past the coal tips and the lock-up depositories through the cavernous back entrance of the station. Inside the domes of glass a gray light filtered from a great height. Not many people here, and some of them quite clearly the lost souls who haunt stations and hospitals in the hope of acquiring some purpose of their own in the presence of so much urgent business, other people's partings, reunions, sickness and death.

The most immediate pleasure of the book comes from the depiction of Moscow. Fitzgerald must have done lots of research but sneaks it into the pages almost in asides, so you feel that it's assumed you know as much as she does. "Like all merchants, and all peasants, Kuriatin was obsessed with the chance to cut down trees." At one time we see Frank looking for a sledge "with a driver who was starting work, and not returning from the night's work drunk, half-drunk, stale drunk, or podvipevchye - with just a dear little touch of drunkenness."

There is also a certain social comedy, especially seen in Frank's habit of floating disconnectedly through complicated social situations. "In the confusion, which rapidly became the monotony, of loss it was something to have a fixed point when things must change or be changed, if only by the arrival of Charlie, That was not quite the same thing as wanting him to come, but it meant that Frank had to make arrangements and give instructions, two ways of bringing time to order." My favourite character is Frank's precocious daughter, whose matter-of-fact approach to life can be seen as a reaction to her father's passivity.

It was only in the last few chapters that the book became fully-formed for me, as they reveal all the unseen threads which Frank has been ignorant of. I was most struck by one amazing chapter which is mainly a description of the family's tumbledown dacha, but at the same time (it seems to me) a description of Russia. It ends with a rather surreal scene which is perhaps the pivot of the book, loaded with political, symbolic and poetic weight which suddenly makes everything make sense. ( )
4 vote wandering_star | Apr 10, 2014 |
Penelope Fitzgerald takes us straight to Moscow in 1913 and Frank Reid's household; his wife leaves him with his three children, the children soon return but Nellie, his wife, remains away. The writing is closely observed while remaining tight and concise. The pictures of a Moscow coming to the end of winter and looking forward to spring are bright and vibrant and the characters are engaging and witty. Frank Reid is a printer and as well as his household we are taken to his workplace and meet his colleagues there. Events occur that don't always make sense and much is unexplained, as you would expect in pre-revolutionary Russia. Well put together novel that draws you in and takes you on an interesting journey with a character for a few weeks. ( )
  Tifi | Dec 8, 2013 |
It is 1913 in Moscow and Frank Reid is a Russian born Englishman, married to an Englishwoman who has left him to return to England. With three young children to care for and a business to run, Frank finds that he must hire Lisa Ivanovna (who finds odd but compellingly attractive) as a 'temporary' governess. This book is rich with humour and with a good insight into life in pre-revolutionary Russia. Nothing is ever quite explained and the ending of the story is strangely unsatsifying while being distinctly realistic. I was given this book as a gift and hadn't read any of Penelope Fitzgerald's work before - I find that I am quite won over by her writing and will definitely look for more of her work. ( )
  PennyAnne | Feb 28, 2013 |
It is 1913, and Frank Reid is an Englishman who was born and raised in Moscow, and now runs his family's printing business. His English wife has suddenly up and left him and he is left to raise their three children. He also has to negotiate the capricious business and social world of per-revolutionary Russia.

Fitzgerald is an amazing writer in both her gift at crafting beautiful sentences, capturing bits of humour, and in creating an astounding world. How does an Englishwoman writing in the 1980s know this level of detail about Russian life at the beginning of the century? This is my first encounter with her, but I own a few others and want to read them right away.

The Beginning of Spring is one of those books that require reading between the lines to figure out what is going on, and where it often feels like there is a bit missing that the reader must puzzle out. But for the reader who enjoys that type of reading experience, it's a rewarding novel. And this is what historical fiction should look like.

Recommended for: readers who love rich detail, gorgeous writing, and nuance in their novels. Not recommended for those who like a straight-forward story with no complexity. ( )
3 vote Nickelini | Feb 26, 2013 |
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To me the book is the essence of why I love novels and wanted to be a writer. I am drawn deep into another world and emerge stronger, happier, surer that humankind is full of wonder and mystery as well as despair, treachery and foolishness. Which reminds me – the last page quite simply takes my breath away.
I hope I'm not giving the impression that Ms. Fitzgerald is merely a clever imitator of the masters. She and her characters have their own agenda; its priorities are the timelessness of human nature and the possibility of love. She is that refreshing rarity, a writer who is very modern but not the least bit hip. Ms. Fitzgerald looks into the past, both human and literary, and finds all sorts of things that are surprisingly up to date. Yet as ''The Beginning of Spring'' reaches its triumphant conclusion, you realize that its greatest virtue is perhaps the most old-fashioned of all. It is a lovely novel.
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In 1913 the journey from Moscow to Charing Cross, changing at Warsaw, cost fourteen pounds, six shillings and threepence and took two and a half days.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
It is March 1913, and dear, slovenly Mother Moscow, her windows still sealed against the cold of winter, is stirring herself to meet the beginning of spring. Change is in the air - uncertainty too - and nowhere more than at 22 Lipka Street, the home of the English printer Frank Reid. Frank returns from work one ngiht to find that his wife has gone away; no one knows where or why, or whether she'll ever come back. All Frank knows for sure is that he is now alone and must find someone to care for his three young children. Into Frank's life comes Lisa Ivanovna, a quiet, calming beauty from the country, untroubled to the point of seeming simple. But is she? And why has Frank's bookkeeper, Selwyn Crane, gone to such lengths to bring these two together? Who is the passionate Volodya, who breaks into the press at night - a thief, an agitator, a would-be murderer? Frank sees, but only dimly, for he is a rational man in Moscow, a city where human experience - of love and friendship, of politics and power - is always at its most unfathomable. (0-395-90871-X)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039590871X, Paperback)

In March 1913, Frank Reid's wife abruptly leaves him and Moscow for her native England. Naturally, she takes their daughters and son with her. The children, however, only make it as far as the train station--and even after returning home remain unaffected by their brief exile. "They ought either to be quieter or more noisy than before," their father thinks, "and it was disconcerting that they seemed to be exactly the same." Frank's routines, however, drift into disorder as he tries desperately to take charge of life at home and work. Even his printing plant is suddenly confronted by the specters of modernization and utter instability.

In Penelope Fitzgerald's fiction, affection and remorse are all too often allied, and desire and design seem never to meet. Frank wants little more than a quiet, confident life--something for which he is deeply unsuited, and which Russia certainly will not go out of her way to provide. The Beginning of Spring is filled with echoes of past wrongs and whispers of the revolution to come, even if the author evokes these with abrupt comic brio. (In one disturbance, "A great many shots had hit people for whom they were not intended.") As ever, Fitzgerald makes us care for--and want to know ever more about--her characters, even the minor players. Her two-page description of Frank's chief type compositor, for instance, is a miracle of precision and humor, sympathy and mystery. And the accountant Selwyn Crane--a Tolstoy devotée, self-published poet, and expert at making others feel guilty--is a sublime creation. His appetite for do-gooding is insatiable. After one fit of apparent altriusm, "Selwyn subsided. Now that he saw everything was going well, his mind was turning to his next charitable enterprise. With the terrible aimlessness of the benevolent, he was casting round for a new misfortune." As she evokes her household of tears and laughter, Fitzgerald's prose is as witty as ever, rendering the past present and the modern timeless. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:36 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Frank Reid is a struggling printer in Moscow. On the eve of the Revolution, his wife returns to her native England, leaving him to raise their three young children alone. How does a reasonable man like Frank cope? Should he listen to the Tolstoyan advice of his bookkeeper? And should he, in his wife's absence, resist his desire for his lovely Russian housemaid? How can anyone know how to live the right life? "Bewitching." Boston Globe… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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