At Freddie's (1982)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

Before she was able to support herself by writing, Penelope Fitzgerald taught school. She worked at the Italia Conti stage school in London in the early 1960s and based the short comic novel At Freddie’s on her experience. 

Freddie is the mysterious elderly proprietor of the Temple Stage School, a London theater school for children in the 1960s. It supplies child actors for the stage — not, Freddie insists, for television, film, or commercials. Freddie keeps the money-strapped school going by force of will and her reputation, and she mostly ignores its financial problems. She is being wooed by an investor who wants to hire out the children for commercials.

To teach the children nontheater subjects, Freddie hires the self-deprecating Pierce Carroll because he comes cheap, and Hannah Graves, who wants to be around the theater but not in it. The two main child characters are the attention-seeking Mattie and the quieter, naturally gifted Jonathan. 

Those who love the theater will likely be tickled by Fitzgerald’s humorous view from backstage. For others, the character of Freddie, whom critics have called Fitzgerald’s most entrancing creation, may be enough to recommend this book.


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