Shirley Hazzard

When Shirley Hazzard was invited to give the 1984 Boyer Lectures, it was an astonishing break in tradition. Her twenty-three predecessors included only one woman, Dame Roma Mitchell, a supreme court justice who was later governor of South Australia. Except for architect and writer Robin Boyd, and poet and Bulletin editor Douglas Stewart, Hazzard was the only creative artist on the list. All her predecessors were well known for their public contributions to Australian life.

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The ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize – one of the country’s major short story prizes – is once again open. Generous support from ABR Patron Ian Dickson has ...

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In her speech as the winner of the 2003 National Book Award, Shirley Hazzard said, 'We should do our best by the language. We mustn't torture it; we mustn't diminish it. We have to love it, nurture it, and enjoy it.'

Reading Hazzard, as she is variously represented in this collection, is to encounter a writer who has done her 'best by the language' and, in t ...

Shirley Hazzard is probably the most elegantly polished writer in the Australian canon: her novels and stories use traditional structures with great assurance, she writes from a thoughtful moral position, she is outspokenly engaged with the fine and the less fine elements of the Australia she once lived in, and she can be dry and funny. She spent most of her life in ...

In October 2009, Shirley Hazzard spoke at the New York launch of the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature. Hazzard read from People in Glass Houses, her early collection of satirical stories about the UN bureaucracy. Her appearance serves to remind Australian readers that Hazzard continues to occupy a defining, if somewhat attenuated, place within the expansive field of what Nicholas Jose described in 2008, on taking up the annual Harvard Chair of Australian Studies, as ‘writing that engage[s] us with the international arena from the Australian perspective’. Jose went on to cite Hazzard’s most recent novel, The Great Fire (2003), as part of ‘a range of material which Americans would not necessarily think of as Australian’.

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London seen through a haze of smoke and fire in J.M.W. Turner’s famous painting, The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, is the evocative cover image for Shirley Hazzard’s long-awaited novel. The Great Fire comes twenty-three years after Hazzard’s brilliantly composed, witty, and ultimately tragic work ...

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Why I’m gripped by this book I don’t know. Well, I do know. When I was in Vietnam late last year, on a gourmet tour, I purchased a pirated copy of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, my first Greene novel. (Why I hadn’t read Greene before I also don’t know, though I’d loved his wonderfully bizarre script for The Third Man.) In Saigon I took green tea in the Hotel Continental, imagining I was sitting where Greene might have sat in the early 1950s. At last, I thought, I’m doing a bit of cultural geography. When I returned to Canberra, I read it, and immediately decided it was a great novel, extraordinarily prescient of the Vietnam War. What also impressed me was the sensibility of Fowler, the English narrator, resigned to knowing himself undignified, unkempt, duplicitous, lying, opium-enveloped, absurdly deluded in love; an active accomplice in murder, of Pyle the appalling American intelligence agent come to do good in Southeast Asia, and always innocent in his own eyes, whatever he disastrously does.

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The Transit of Venus has been widely acclaimed, and justly so: it is a great novel of passion and ambition, success and failure, written with elegance and wit, and magnificently structured. Still, despite the critical superlatives, few critics have attempted to come to grips with the power of Hazzard’s writing. There have been the inevitable comparisons with Jane Austen, and some attention has been paid to the symbolic connotations of the title, but little more. The prose and structure of the novel are worth examining in some detail because, seven years in the making, it is a most crafted and sculpted work of literary art.

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