Penelope Lively Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

While Penelope Lively is well known as a novelist, she first earned an international reputation in the early 1970’s as a writer of literature for children. Indeed, she has continued to write in both genres since 1977. Even in her earliest children’s stories, one can see strong traces of the concerns subsequently also explored in her adult fiction. The most widely known of her children’s books, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973), describes the experiences of young James Harrison as he encounters the ghost of a seventeenth century former inhabitant of the cottage in which James now lives. Blamed for the poltergeist’s mischievous actions, James discovers the significance of historical perspective in explaining the world at large. Here, as in many of Lively’s works for children, most notably A Stitch in Time (1976), the supernatural is the medium by which the past comes into contact with the present.

Along with many stories for older children, Lively has published one picture book for infants, The Cat, the Crow, and the Banyan Tree (1994; illustrated by Terry Milne). She has produced several collections of short stories for adults, and many of her short stories have appeared in magazines ranging from Cosmopolitan to The Literary Review. In addition, she has published full-length works of nonfiction, including The Presence of the Past: An Introduction to Landscape History (1976) and the memoir Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived (1994), in which she looks back to her early childhood in Egypt. She has also written numerous radio and television scripts, book reviews, and other articles for academic and nonacademic publications, including travel articles for The New York Times as well as articles on various topics for leading newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Penelope Lively’s work has earned her a number of literary accolades. With Moon Tiger, she won Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, an award for which two of her previous novels, The Road to Lichfield and According to Mark, were short-listed. Moon Tiger also received the 1988 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Treasures of Time, Lively’s second work of long fiction for adults, received the British Arts Council’s inaugural National Book Award in 1979. She won the Carnegie Medal, the top children’s literature award in Britain, for The Ghost of Thomas Kempe, and the Whitbread Prize for A Stitch in Time. In 1985, Lively was named a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Four years later, she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II; in 2002, her rank was upgraded to Commander.

Lively serves on the board of the British Council and on the council of Goldsmith’s College, London. She has been awarded two honorary doctorates, by Tufts University and by Warwick University in England.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jackson, 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.