Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 14, 2016

Vale Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016)

Photo by Christopher Peterson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Source Wikipedia Commons

Photo by Christopher Peterson, CC BY-SA 3.0, Source Wikipedia Commons

Yet more sad news: the great Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard has died in New York aged 85.

The author of the prize-winning novels The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire, Hazzard is one of my favourite authors, and I nurtured a small hope that there might yet be another novel from her in her old age.  It was not to be.

She was not a prolific author, but her fiction was brilliant.  She wrote four novels, and I’ve read them all (both The Transit of Venus and The Great Fire twice)  though only two are reviewed on this blog.

She published two short story collections (and I have them both):

  • Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories (1963)
  • People in Glass Houses (1967)

Her non fiction included

  • Defeat of an Ideal: A Study of the Self-destruction of the United Nations (1973)
  • Coming of Age in Australia (1985)
  • Countenance of Truth: The United Nations and the Waldheim Case (1990)
  • Greene on Capri: A Memoir (2000) which I started before my last European trip but did not have time to finish.
  • The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples (2008) (See my review).

What I loved about Hazzard’s fiction was her cosmopolitan world view.  She had travelled widely because her father was a diplomat and she worked for the UN for about ten years.  She had great respect and affection for the Asian cultures she wrote about in her novels, peopling her stories with gently satiric portraits of bombast, ignorance and racism amongst the occupiers.  She also wrote from the heart about May-September love, and her use of symbolism was exquisite.

Although she lived most of her life overseas, her fiction is shaped by the egalitarianism of Australia.  She was not interested in class or money: she was interested in what her characters could do with what life offered, and how they thought about the world.  And – at the risk of generalising about the vast scope of American fiction – she was more literary and less plot-driven than her American counterparts, while her humour was of the subtle sort, in the way it reveals itself with re-reading.  Austenesque, but with contemporary, international preoccupations.

Wikipedia tells me that in 1984 Shirley Hazzard gave the Boyer Lectures, later published as a book called Coming of Age in Australia.  I am going to have to find a copy of this somewhere…

The NY Times has acknowledged her passing with an obituary, which makes reference to the intelligence of her writing as ‘exhausting’.  It also describes her novels as slim, an odd observation to make about The Great Fire at 326 pages and The Transit of Venus at 356…  Read the one at The Guardian instead…

Update 18/12/16 Far better, because it’s more personal, read Travellin’ Penguin’s tribute here.


  1. Another great loss to Australia and the literary world.


  2. Loved her works. Pity there were no more, great pity.


    • Oh yes indeed. Still, there’s always re-reading…


  3. One of my favourites too. A tough week in Australian literature.


  4. I hadn’t heard this, Lisa. Like you I was hoping for another novel too. I’ve read Transit of Venus twice too, but otherwise I’ve only read The great fire, and Greene on Capri, both of which I loved. (Well, all of which I loved). These women – Anne Deveson and Shirley Hazzard – are my mother’s vintage (she was born in 1929, and they 1930 and 1931) so it is getting a bit close to home.


    • I know what you mean…these are the women we looked up to as inspirational…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is really sad news! One of my favourite anecdotes about her was how she and her husband Francis Steigmuller used to read Antony and Cleopatra together. They read it together for the last time the day he died. That is one of my favourite stories. This is really the end of an era. So sad :( RIP Shirley Hazzard. We will miss you :(


  6. I’ve never read Hazzard and have somehow skirted around her books.


    • Ah, what can I say? Browse my reviews, find ones of The Great Fire and The Transit of Venus, check out her NF or her short stories – and hopefully *smile* you will be persuaded.


  7. Sad, I hadn’t heard either so thank you very much for this. The British journalist, Brian Appleyard, wrote an article stating that she was the best novelist in the world.


    • Well, that is high praise indeed. I do think she should have received Australian Honours…


  8. This is a wonderful review. I just lifted my review from a site online (acknowledged it) as I enjoyed it. You can find a copy of the Boyer Lectures here:


    • You’d think the ABC would have a link to the audio version on their site… I’d love to hear her voice…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. […] Hazzard, The Evening of the Holiday (see Vale ShirleyHazzard (1931-2016) by Lisa at ANZLitLovers which contains links to reviews of this and other Hazzard […]


  10. […] could be to another short story, I’m simply going to link to a book by another Shirley — Shirley Hazzard. She wrote four novels, and I’ve read them all (both The Transit of Venus (1980) and The Great […]


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