At Hiruharama


Penelope Fitzgerald

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At Hiruharama Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Penelope Fitzgerald's At Hiruharama. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Penelope Fitzgerald

Penelope Fitzgerald was born in 1916 to a family of writers and scholars, though she did not begin writing until she was 58. Her father, Edmund Knox, was the editor of Punch, an influential humorous and satirical weekly magazine, and her mother, Christina, was one of the first women to attend Oxford University. Penelope attended boarding school before graduating from Oxford University in 1938. During World War II, she worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation and married Desmond Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was an officer in the British military who went on to become a lawyer, but he was later disbarred when he was caught forging checks. In the 1950s, Penelope and Desmond edited a literary magazine together titled World Review, which published work by writers including J. D. Salinger, Bernard Malamud, and Norman Mailer. Fitzgerald began her own writing career at age 58 when she wrote a biography of the artist Edward Burne-Jones. Two years later, she wrote a biography of her father and uncles. In 1977, she published her first novel, The Golden Child, a comical murder mystery that she wrote to amuse her husband while he was dying. She published four more novels over the next five years—The Bookshop, Offshore, Human Voices, and At Freddie’s. Offshore—about a community of people that live on houseboats, as Fitzgerald once did—won the Booker Prize in 1979. Her final novel—The Blue Flower, published in 1995—was based on the life of 18th-century German Romantic poet Novalis and won the National Book Critics Circle Award.
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Historical Context of At Hiruharama

The first British colonists arrived in New Zealand in 1840 after William Hobson (a Captain sent by the British government) and about 40 Māori leaders signed the Treaty of Waitangi, not long before the events of “At Hiruharama” take place. Conflicting interpretations of the treaty led to the New Zealand Wars, which lasted from 1845 to 1872 with Māori people and sympathetic settlers fighting against British colonial rule. The terms of the 1840 treaty declared that people of Māori descent could only sell land to the British government, not to settlers themselves. The British government bought the bulk of usable land and sold it to the New Zealand Company, a company founded in the United Kingdom to colonize New Zealand by enticing wealthy British people to buy land with the promise of cheap labor from British immigrants who would hope to earn enough to then buy land themselves. The New Zealand Company sold the best parcels of land to British settlers and then used the profits of those sales to finance the travel of immigrants from Britain.

Other Books Related to At Hiruharama

Fitzgerald’s short story “The Means of Escape” was written around the same time as “At Hiruharama” and concerns people from England living in 19th-century Australia; both stories were also published in her posthumous story collection The Means of Escape. A. S. Byatt was another English novelist and Booker Prize winner, and she also wrote an introduction to The Means of Escape; Byatt’s novel Possession won the Booker Prize and concerns the romance of two fictional 19th-century poets. Fitzgerald covered similar territory in her novel The Blue Flower, a fictional retelling of the life of 19th-century German Romantic poet Novalis. Byatt also said that Penelope Fitzgerald was “Jane Austen’s nearest heir for precision and invention.” Austen’s best-known works include Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma.
Key Facts about At Hiruharama
  • Full Title: At Hiruharama
  • When Written: Early 1990s
  • When Published: The story was published posthumously in 2000 in the story collection The Means of Escape.
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Short Story, Literary Fiction, Frame Narrative
  • Setting: The rural area of Hiruharama, New Zealand
  • Climax: After Tanner helps Kitty through labor, the doctor arrives and finds a second child in the afterbirth, which Tanner had thrown away.
  • Antagonist: The story does not have a traditional antagonist, though the Tanners’ neighbor, Brinkman, serves as comic relief throughout.
  • Point of View: Third Person

Extra Credit for At Hiruharama

Famous Pupils. Penelope Fitzgerald worked as a teacher at a test-prep school, where her students included fashion editor Anna Wintour, actor Helena Bonham Carter, and novelist Edward St. Aubyn. Fitzgerald’s novel At Freddie’s is a fictionalized version of her time working at that school.

First Publication. The magazine that Fitzgerald co-edited with her husband, World Review, was the first place that J. D. Salinger’s story “For Esmé with Love and Squalor” was published in the United Kingdom.