Shirley Hazzard Biography
Nationality: American. Born: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1931; became U.S. citizen. Education: Queenwood School, Sydney. Family: Married the writer Francis Steegmuller in 1963 (deceased 1994). Career: Staff member, Combined Services Intelligence, Hong Kong, 1947-48, United Kingdom High Commissioner's Office, Wellington, New Zealand, 1949-50, and United Nations Headquarters, New York (General Service Category), 1951-61. Awards: American Academy award, 1966; Guggenheim fellowship, 1974; O. Henry award, 1977; National Book Critics Circle award, 1981.
The Evening of the Holiday. New York, Knopf, and London, Macmillan, 1966.
People in Glass Houses: Portraits from Organization Life. NewYork, Knopf, and London, Macmillan, 1967.
The Bay of Noon. Boston, Little Brown, and London, Macmillan, 1970.
The Transit of Venus. New York, Viking Press, and London, Macmillan, 1980.
Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories. New York, Knopf, and London, Macmillan, 1963.
Uncollected Short Stories
"The Flowers of Sorrow," in Winter's Tales 10, edited by A.D. Maclean. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1964.
"Forgiving," in Ladies' Home Journal (New York), August 1964.
"Comfort," in New Yorker, 24 October 1964.
"The Evening of the Holiday," in New Yorker, 17 April 1965.
"Out of Itea," in New Yorker, 1 May 1965.
"Nothing in Excess," in New Yorker, 26 March 1966.
"A Sense of Mission," in New Yorker, 4 March 1967.
"Swoboda's Tragedy," in New Yorker, 20 May 1967.
"Story of Miss Sadie Graine," in New Yorker, 10 June 1967.
"Official Life," in New Yorker, 24 June 1967.
"The Separation of Dinah Delbanco," in New Yorker, 22 July 1967.
"The Everlasting Delight," in New Yorker, 19 August 1967.
"Statue and the Bust," in McCall's (New York), August 1971.
"Sir Cecil's Ride," in Winter's Tales 21, edited by A.D. Maclean. London, Macmillan, 1975; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1976.
"A Long Story Short," in Prize Stories 1977: The O. Henry Awards, edited by William Abrahams. New York, Doubleday, 1977.
"A Crush on Doctor Dance," in Winter's Tales 24, edited by A.D. Maclean. London, Macmillan, 1978; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1979.
"Something You'll Remember Always," in New Yorker, 17 September 1979.
"She Will Make You Very Happy," in New Yorker, 26 November1979.
"Forgiving," in Ladies' Home Journal (New York), January 1984.
"The Meeting," in The Faber Book of Contemporary Australian Short Stories, edited by Murray Bail. London, Faber, 1988.
"The Place to Be," in Prize Stories 1988, edited by WilliamAbrahams. New York, Doubleday, 1988.
"In These Islands," in New Yorker, 18 June 1990.
Defeat of an Ideal: A Study of the Self-Destruction of the United Nations. Boston, Little Brown, 1972; London, Macmillan, 1973.
Coming of Age in Australia (lectures). Sydney, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 1985.
Countenance the Truth: The United Nations and the Waldheim Case. New York, Viking, 1990; London, Chatto and Windus, 1991.
Greene on Capri: A Memoir. New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000.
"Patterns and Preoccupations of Love: The Novels of Shirley Hazzard" by John Colmer, in Meanjin (Melbourne), December 1970; Recent Fiction by R.G. Geering, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1974; "Shirley Hazzard: Dislocation and Continuity" by Robert Sellick, in Australian Literary Studies (Hobart), October 1979; "Shirley Hazzard Issue" of Texas Studies in Literature and Language (Austin), vol. 25, no. 2, 1983.
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Shirley Hazzard is a slow, painstaking writer who seems to have known where she was going in her art right from the beginning. Her first published work, the 10 stories in Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories, is like the rest of her fiction with the exception of People in Glass Houses in that it is concerned with the tensions, complications, and disappointments of adult sexual love. The stories involve doubles, triangles, and sometimes quadrilaterals of people caught up with one another in complex webs of relationships, the trails of which are traced out in the subtle, witty, biting prose that is Hazzard's trademark. Usually the stories are told from the perspective of the female protagonist and often, as is the case with much of Hazzard's fiction, they are set in a fairly recent past. The scenes range from England to the United States and in one case Switzerland. Sometimes they consist simply of observation of manners at some occasion or gathering—"The Party," "The Weekend," "The Picnic"—but almost invariably they are chronicles of pain and betrayal.
The Evening of the Holiday is a short novel, a simple and rather inconclusive account of a love affair between a woman named Sophie and an Italian, Tancredi, who is separated from his wife but cannot gain a divorce under Italian law, a situation that occurs in several of these stories. It is a tender, elegantly written book with a strong but rather cryptic sense of fatalism hanging over it. People in Glass Houses is a brilliantly funny and scathing collection of eight interrelated stories concerning an unnamed "Organization" which is transparently the United Nations, where Hazzard worked for a time. The stories are linked, not merely by the reappearance of several characters such as Mr. Bekkus, Clelia Kinglake, Swoboda, Rodriguez-O'Hearn, and others but by the repetition of the savage criticisms that the author offers in each story. In her view, the U.N. is characterized by petty and insensitive bureaucracy, a determination to squeeze out the individual and the gifted, an absence of personal feeling and a refusal to promote loyal and efficient, if limited, employees such as Swoboda and Dinah Delbanco. It is especially unfair in the last respect to women. Hazzard's interest in language itself, always strong in her fiction, has never been livelier or more intense than in this book and she constantly points to bureaucratic inertia, insensitivity, and finally lack of human feeling by concentrating on the way people use language. The interest surfaces early in the figure of Algie Wyatta, rebel, iconoclast, and therefore doomed, who collects contradictions in terms such as "military intelligence," "competent authorities" and "easy virtue." The egregious Mr. Bekkus is characterized in terms of his employment of jargon. The story "The Flowers of Sorrow" hinges around an important personage intruding a personal note into his speech—"In my country … we have a song that asks, Will the flowers of joy ever equal the flowers of sorrow"—and the diverse but almost always disparaging reaction to this on the part of his staff.
The Bay of Noon is again a short novel, set in Naples and dealing with the complex relationships worked out among four people from a perspective of some twelve or fifteen years later. The story is told in the first person by Jenny, an English girl sent to Italy as a translator, who becomes involved with Gioconda, her lover Gianni and a Scot named J.P. (Justin) Tulloch. Hazzard brings to her treatment of the familiar theme of love and its entanglements all the sophisticated techniques she has been steadily developing in her fiction and which culminate in her finest and most ambitious novel, The Transit of Venus. The language is packed with literary allusion. There are aggressively bracketed interpolations, such as a violent attack on the military. There is a flash forward to Tulloch's eventual death in a plane crash, a recurring event in Hazzard's fiction. It is an enjoyable but finally rather lightweight novel that has an uncharacteristic look of improvisation about its plot.
But Hazzard's masterpiece and the basis of her reputation is undoubtedly The Transit of Venus. A young Australian woman travels to England with her sister, has a relationship with a worthless man, is reduced to material poverty and emotional impoverishment, out of which she is rescued by a rich, liberal-minded, middle-aged American. However, the novel moves on to the deeply melancholy ending of the death of its heroine Caroline (Caro) Bell in an air crash and the post-fictive suicide of Ted Tice, the man she has finally realized she loved and was on the way to meet. The novel is about love and about truth, about the difference between those who love truly and those who exploit emotions for selfish ends. It is also about chance and the contingent, specifically the accident referred to in the title by which Australia came to be discovered by Captain Cook.
The motif of Venus itself becomes an important one in the novel, along with a number of others of which perhaps the most important is that of the shipwreck. Caro is indeed a child of Venus in that for her, love is a total commitment; it is part of her complete emotional honesty, her belief in the possibility of an excellence and distinction that are not necessarily related to any demonstrable achievement or worldly success but may consist solely in a life of constant personal integrity: "the truth has a life of its own," she says. The Transit of Venus is an unfashionably romantic novel. Coupled with this, however, is the fact that in terms of structure and technique it is also ruthlessly calculating, even cold-blooded. This paradoxical combination has upset many of its critics. The novel is structured around an inferential method that makes heavy demands on the reader's ability to connect different events and personages, and demonstrates the author's almost lordly superiority over and distance from her material. Of these demands, the most important is the suicide of Ted Tice which, though mentioned explicitly early in the novel, takes place after its close and can be worked out by the reader only by carefully following a number of clues scattered carefully throughout its pages. However, the meticulous—sometimes almost too meticulous—craftsmanship of the novel and the elegance and subtle wit of the style are a delight and almost unique among contemporary Australian fiction writers.
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