Fitzgerald, (Fanny Louisa) Geraldine Penrose- (1846–1939), novelist and catholic convert, was born 27 January 1846, youngest daughter of Robert Uniacke Penrose-Fitzgerald and his wife Frances Matilda (née Austen); she had at least three brothers and one sister. The Penrose-Fitzgeralds had a London residence at 19 Norfolk Square, near Paddington; their seat was Corkbeg House on the south-eastern side of Cork Harbour, where they enjoyed the finest deep-water anchorage in the harbour. The family were enthusiastic yachters and rowers, the former sport playing the same role in local gentry socialisation as fox-hunting elsewhere; yachting features in Geraldine's novels (notably Was she tamed? (1875)).
Her eldest brother, Sir Robert Uniacke Penrose-Fitzgerald (1839–1919), who inherited the family property (5,307 acres in Cork around Corkbeg; 764 acres in Queen's County (Laois)), was a leading member of the Property Defence Association and the pro-landlord Cork Defence Union during the land war, and Conservative MP for Cambridge borough (1885–1906) (he was also a Cambridge rowing blue). Another brother, Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald (1841–1921), was an admiral in the Royal Navy and writer on naval subjects; a third brother, James, was land agent for the Co. Cork estate of Lord Midleton (qv) during the land war.
As the youngest daughter, Geraldine was probably intended to remain unmarried as a companion to her mother after her father's death in 1857 (though her sister did not marry either). In adolescence, Fitzgerald developed anglo-catholic views, going to confession (then extremely uncommon among anglicans) to Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800–82), leader of the section of the Oxford movement remaining within the anglican church after the secession of John Henry Newman (qv) to Rome in 1845. Despite her family's discouragement, she became fascinated by Newman's Apologia pro vita sua (1864–5) – written to defend the sincerity of his beliefs and conversion against attack by Charles Kingsley (1819–75), an acquaintance of the Penrose-Fitzgerald family) – which she purchased clandestinely. After praying in the University Church in St Stephen's Green (commissioned by Newman), she became convinced that Rome was the true church but hesitated in converting because of her family's opposition. In 1867 or 1868 she began writing to Newman at his residence in the Birmingham Oratory, and he was struck by her 'simplicity and frankness'. In May 1869 Fitzgerald was formally received into the Roman catholic church, resisting considerable family pressure to reverse her decision. Newman subsequently provided her with advice, not only on spiritual matters but also on her manuscript novels and on dealing with publishers, addressing her as 'My dear Child'. On 22 February 1876, while coming down from Birmingham to visit a dentist, Newman paid a call on the Fitzgeralds at their London residence and charmed Geraldine's mother and sister; they subsequently exchanged gifts and the Fitzgeralds congratulated him on his elevation to the cardinalate in 1878.
Fitzgerald's five known novels (she may also have contributed to catholic story-papers such as the Lamp) attracted some contemporary attention, but have subsequently been little read. Although somewhat two-dimensional, they display a spiky satirical wit, touched with snobbery, and a preoccupation with religiously-inspired sacrificial love. The first, Ereighda Castle (1870), published as by 'Naseby', rather unskilfully combines a story of thwarted love with the theme of the absentee's return, and incidentally places a panegyric of Newman in the mouth of one character. The better-plotted Only three weeks (1872) ends with the heroine dying in saving her father from an agrarian murder and the conscience-stricken hero becoming a Carmelite friar. The ending reflects Fitzgerald's own aspirations, for a few months after the novel's appearance she wrote to Newman announcing that she had made arrangements to run away from home and enter a convent in Ireland; Newman discouraged her, saying such a decision should not be taken hastily and she should not leave her mother without warning.
In 1875 Fitzgerald published Was she tamed?, which appeared simply as by 'the author of Only three weeks' (and is overlooked by some works of reference). In it, a minor character advocates home rule in the expectation that removal from a Westminster parliament hostile to catholicism would allow the natural conservatism of catholicism to reassert itself in Ireland. If this reflects a mild flirtation with Buttite home rule on Fitzgerald's part, it was rapidly abandoned with the rise of the Land League and Charles Stewart Parnell (qv). In 1882 Fitzgerald sent Newman the manuscript of a tale she was writing in which she sought to throw English honesty and Irish dishonesty into sharp relief. It contained hostile portrayals of Parnell ('Mr Snarlwell') and his lieutenants, and Fitzgerald expressed fear that 'those fiends in human form' might revenge themselves by ordering the assassination of her brothers. After Newman criticised her use of satirical names and her assumption that Parnell instigated murder, Fitzgerald agreed to cut out the references to Parnell and his lieutenants while reiterating her belief in their responsibility for murder and telling Newman of her unhappiness as a catholic in seeing Cardinal Manning support the Land League and local priests in Cork 'stirring up the people to revolution'. She described the state of siege endured by her brothers, the ill-treatment of animals, and the economic impact of withholding rents on landed families: 'I see my mother after a long life devoted to visiting the poor and the sick in the village and on our own property at home refused rent from those very people … 75 years old and obliged to do without all the comforts she has been accustomed to all her life' (Newman, vol. xxx, pp 67 (17 Mar. 1882), 111 (8 July 1882), 113–14 (13 July 1882)).
Fitzgerald's 1885 novel Oaks and birches appears to be a revised version of the text submitted to Newman, with a dishonest American businessman substituted for Parnell/Snarlwell as principal villain; its story of the love of a dispossessed and rigorously honest English heiress for a habitually untruthful Anglo-Irish litterateur certainly reflects a contrast between English self-righteous uprightness (oaks) and Irish pliability (birches). It is possible that the male protagonist, with his aestheticism, trivial attitude to lying, and publication of sceptical and religiously heterodox articles in literary journals, is modelled on Oscar Wilde (qv); the attribution of his moral failings to the influence of a sceptical Oxford professor clearly echoes Newman's views on the evil of liberalism and the moral role of education. Newman's last surviving letters to Fitzgerald, in late 1885, compliment her on the publication of this novel.
The declining influence of Newman (suffering increasing ill health in the years preceding his death on 11 August 1890) gave Fitzgerald scope to vent her hostility to the home rule and land agitations in her last known novel, The silver whistle (1890). This story of a virtuous Irish catholic maiden lured into marriage (which turns out to be bigamous) by a malevolent French conspirator making hypocritical pretence of piety, and rescued by her Anglo-Irish and English friends, is explicitly presented as an allegory for the hoped-for regeneration of Ireland from the effects of agitation. The novel, executed with all the subtlety of a Punch cartoon depicting a stalwart Britannia shielding her shrinking sister Hibernia from knife-wielding simians, lumps together the Land League (christened the 'Great Harvest Bug League'), French anarchism and republicanism, Irish-American dynamiters, and British radicals and secularists under the common name of 'communists' as instruments of a single conspiracy against civilisation.
Only fragmentary information is available on Fitzgerald's career after 1890. The silver whistle advocates the granting of the parliamentary vote to upper-class women, and Fitzgerald seems to have maintained her pro-suffrage views thereafter (the Cork Examiner of June 1917 published a letter in which she complained that the hard-working businesswomen of Munster paid taxes but would not be represented at the Irish Convention). In October 1920 a house belonging to her near Cobh was raided by crown forces. Corkbeg House was empty after the death of Sir Robert's widow in 1924 and sold in 1936. In the 1920s Fitzgerald moved to the south coast of England, where she spent the remainder of her life; she was living at Bournemouth by June 1934, when the Irish Independent marked the canonisation of John Bosco (1815–88), founder of the Salesian religious order, by interviewing her about her memories of meeting the saint in 1884. In 1938 she reminisced to a Cork journalist about her family's memories of Sarah Curran (qv) and wrote a long letter to the Jesuit priest Francis Browne (qv) recalling her conversion and contacts with Newman, which is extensively excerpted in the published Newman correspondence. She died at Bournemouth on 1 August 1939.