False memories of Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square
Fitzroy Square

It may seem to be stretching the boundaries of geography too far to include Fitzroy Square in a series of blogs about squares in Bloomsbury.  Does Fitzroy Square even exist in Bloomsbury at all?  The residents of Fitzrovia would surely say “not”.  However, it is hard to omit Fitzroy Square when it displays all the characteristics, which make it almost the ‘perfect’ Bloomsbury square.

View by Naomi Blake, Fitzroy Square

View by Naomi Blake, Fitzroy Square

The ‘perfect’ square

What makes a quintessential Bloomsbury square?  A nicely preserved terrace of Georgian townhouses.  Tick.  A well-manicured, green lawn, surrounded by mature trees.  Tick.  Iron railings (original or restored).  Tick.  Virginia Woolf lived there at some time or other.  Tick.

Fitzroy Square has it all.

Literary connections

As well as the ubiquitous Virginia Woolf connection, Fitzroy Square was also home to George Bernard Shaw.  The wording on the plaque at number 29 would suggest that he might have written it himself, although the quotation is actually accredited to his housekeeper, Alice Laden, at the time of his death:

“From the coffers of his genius, he enriched the world.”

Plaque in Fitzroy Square

Plaque in Fitzroy Square

Other famous literary residents have included the writer Ford Madox Ford and the publishers Cresset Press and Allison & Busby.

However, in recent years, it is the writer Ian McEwan who has most brought Fitzroy Square to the news.

Ian McEwan

McEwan was long-term resident of number 11 Fitzroy Square until he moved house in 2011.  In fact, much of his novel Saturday is set in the Square, and it provides the fictional home of that book’s chief protagonist.

And it was during a move of house that McEwan lost the most ‘perfect’ novella that he had ever written.

In an interview with Audible Sessions, he describes writing an incredibly beautiful novella, which was perfect in every way, but which he mislaid during the confusion of a house-move and was entirely unable to find during subsequent searches for it.

False memory

So, a mislaid McEwan manuscript.  Literature’s loss?  It would not be the first manuscript to have vanished in the annals of literary history.  T. E. Lawrence famously lost the first draft of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom while changing trains at Reading Station.  However, the circumstances are somewhat different in McEwan’s case.

It transpires that McEwan’s perfect novella never actually existed.  It was a false memory of the author.

The perfect novella no more exists in reality than does Fitzroy Square in Bloomsbury.

Fitzroy Square

Fitzroy Square

BA English at SOAS

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Modules include English in the Global World; Global Shakespeare; The Novel and Its Others; and Fictions of History.

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