Like Arabella Ridley—her brilliant and efficacious heroine in “They Sleep Without Dreaming,” who “had written her Ph.D., in advance to save time, and then got her B.A.”—Penelope Ann Douglass Conner, the daughter of Cyril and Mary Douglass Conner, exhibited her precocity by passing her University of Oxford entrance examinations before she was old enough to be admitted. That was in 1947, when she was fifteen. Her father, who was a lawyer, and her mother had reared their two daughters in Northumberland until 1942, during which year her parents’ marriage had broken up and Penelope had elected, at age ten, to live with her father in wartime London. At Queens College, she gained proficiency in music, literary studies, and foreign languages. In 1948, still not old enough for Oxford, she made the first of her many swings across the Atlantic to study for one academic year at Bennington College in Vermont.
In London, during the early 1950’s, Penelope Conner directed her writing talents toward magazine journalism and rose to the feature-editorship of Vogue. She trained her eye for cinema and theater by contributing reviews to Vogue and other magazines, including the New Statesman. At the beginning of the next decade, she became the film critic for London’s The Observer. From 1961 to 1966, she gained prominence in this capacity, giving the last of these years over to theater criticism. Her reputation won her an invitation to serve as guest film critic...
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