Penelope Knox Fitzgerald was born on 17 December 1916 and died on 28 April 2000. She came from an upper middle class English family. Her older relatives and parents included a bishop, the editor of an influential magazine, and other writers and professors. She attended the elite Wycombe Abbey boarding school and Oxford.
After graduating, she worked for the BBC. In 1942 she married Desmond Fitzgerald, who was studying for the bar. After the war, they moved to London and jointly edited a literary magazine. Desmond suffered from alcoholism and was disbarred as a lawyer. The family descended into poverty and Penelope started teaching in the 1960s to support herself, her husband, and their children.
Penelope published her first book in 1975, a biography of painter Edward Burne-Jones, when she was 58 years old. This was followed by a biography of her father and his brother in 1976, and then several novels with both historical and contemporary settings.
She won the 1979 Booker Prize for her novel Offshore and was awarded the 1999 Golden PEN Award for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature."