The Persephone Book of Short Stories: World Apart by Penelope Fitzgerald


Penelope Fitzgerald is not a new author to me. I have read two of her books – The Bookshop, and The Blue Flower – and have Offshore (Man Booker winner, 1979) in my TBR pile. It has been a while since I read her works, so World Apart short story was a good refresher for me of her writing.

Hester told her daughter that she ought to try and make Mr. Bergen feel more at home.

‘He’s not at home,’ said Tilly. ‘He’s in our house.’

At two years old, Tilly had been sympathetic to the whole world, a perpetual angel of mercy, keeping the whole house hushed in case her poor sick teddy bear should be disturbed. Now that she was six years old, where had this calm severity come from?

… so begins World Apart.

Even though the story had been written in 1983, it is set sometime after the World War II. Tilly’s father had left Hester and Tilly when Tilly was very young. The mother and the daughter had been living alone without a man in the house until Hester lets a spare room to Ernst Bergen, a Polish refugee.

There is a sense of melancholy in the story. Hester and Ernst both are lonely souls saddened by their respective losses. So in a way, it is inevitable that they would end up together (at least that is how I chose to interpret the story’s open-ended ending). What touched me the most about World Apart is their love. More than their conversations, it is the subtle ways they expressed their emotions that I found to be endearing. The story also gave a happy ending to Tilly as she warms up to Ernst by the end of the story despite her previous outbursts.

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