Hazzard, Shirley 1931–
Hazzard is an Australian novelist, short story writer, and essayist who has spent most of her adult life either in the United States, including several years of work for the United Nations, or in Italy. In her impeccable short stories and novels which treat themes of loneliness and the birth and loss of love, Hazzard is said to resemble Katherine Mansfield and Willa Cather. Her elegant prose has been compared to that of Stendhal. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
The 10 substantial stories in Cliffs of Fall are almost without imagery and description, their vehicle being dialogue and simple reportage of gesture. The characters are literates, the settings American and Italian, the theme the psychological interpenetration of opposite sexes. Admirably acute herself, Miss Hazzard lets her characters be acute, too…. Miss Hazzard is an outstanding, gifted, expert writer, who knows the precisely most economical point at which to make the incision into her highly interesting situations. (p. 578)
Brigid Brophy, "A Sight of Intriguers: 'Cliffs of Fall'," in New Statesman (© 1963 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 66, No. 1702, October 25, 1963, pp. 578-79.
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Don M. Wolfe
The ten stories collected [in Cliffs of Fall and Other Stories] reveal a many-faceted if unextended talent concentrated mainly on the portrayal of woman acutely vulnerable to the burden of love enhanced by rejection.
Of such is the longest and ripest story, "A Place in the Country," in which the heroine loves her cousin's husband with a blind, despairing passion, deepest at the instant of parting. Neither in this story nor in any other in this volume does the author use a march of scenes to portray a conscious tension between two parts of her heroine's psyche. The structure of the stories, like the imagery, is suggestive rather than rounded. Shirley Hazzard has much of the delicacy and subtlety and poignancy that distinguished Katherine Mansfield and Willa Cather, but without the fulness of dilemma one finds in "Bliss" or "A Wagner Matinée."…
In bringing some characters into focus Miss Hazzard inter-poses too many minor figures. At times she uses introspection indiscriminately, as in "The Worst Moment of the Day" and "In One's Own House," where she plunges abruptly into the thoughts of four or five people in quick succession. Moreover, the internal life of no one character in Cliffs of Fall is fully realized.
If it is weak in certain aspects of structure, Miss Hazzard's art is rich and glowing in stylistic resources. Sparing and selective in her use of images, she often deftly brings...
(The entire section is 401 words.)
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Both in style and substance, the finely balanced sensibility that characterizes Shirley Hazzard's New Yorker stories pervades The Evening of the Holiday…. Here, refracted as in a prism, is a moment in time—in the time of love, which is a rather different division of existence from that of calendar calculation. The setting is Italy, the season is summer, and the lovers are an Italian, Tancredi, separated from his wife, and a vacationing visitor, Sophie, half English, half Italian. They meet; they are mistrustfully drawn together; they love; they part. And the primary interest of this brief tale is the artistry with which the love affair is limned, from tentative attraction to prolonged celebration amidst the "dry gold" beauty of a countryside in full bloom; a holiday of the heart shadowed by the lovers' awareness of moving towards the evening of separation.
Miss Hazzard creates a cumulative mood that is, in effect, the drama, while the "events" serve to illumine character rather than propel narrative action. What action there is is fugitive, even gratuitous in a couple of instances, involving characters introduced as though for a specific purpose and then dropped from sight. But the mood builds surely and inexorably….
[Out of] ephemeral occurrences Miss Hazzard has fashioned a sophisticated, evocative story of romantic love in thrall to itself, barred from even an illusory sense of...
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Shirley Hazzard's writing is like some electronic mechanism, enormously intricate in design and function, charged with great power, but so refined by skill that it may be contained in a small case and exhibit a smooth and shapely surface.
The surface of ["The Evening of the Holiday"] … tells us how an Italian man and an Englishwoman meet and fall in love in an Italian town, and how their subsequent, rather undramatic, affair develops. But beneath the surface is a complexity of ideas and effects—and of ancestors. Miss Hazzard tells us that Keats is the forebear of her heroine; among her own are Hawthorne, Henry James and E. M. Forster. Like them, she deals with the perpetually fascinating and valid problems of a woman of northern antecedents and inhibitions confronting the easy sensuality of the Italian male. Upon this foundation—or volcano—she has constructed her complicated and moving edifice.
Like one of Forster's books, Miss Hazzard's ends with a train journey that tells us something of the author's intention. The heroine, continuing on her way after an interruption in the course of her life, shares a carriage with a company of soldiers. At each stop, their bugler relieves their wistful boredom and sense of futility with a romantic tune. But "the song never reached its conclusion, for the train would always start up again with the last refrain and the instrument would be violently shaken in the musician's...
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Miss Hazzard is a serious comic writer because of her remarkable sensitivity to, and control of, English…. [Her] heightened consciousness of speech—her gift for catching and pinning the banalities and self-betrayals of officials struggling in the benign but deadening grip of a great international peace Organisation [in People in Glass Houses]—has directed her attention to what is behind the debased language.
Miss Hazzard's precise use of words sometimes creates little areas of resonance which evoke more than mere muddle and obtuseness. In Chapter Three, outstandingly, delicate counter-implications creep into the presentation of a dull and jargon-ridden meeting…. (p. 513)
Roger Gard, "Satire by Imitation: 'People in Glass Houses'," in New Statesman (© 1967 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 74, No. 1910, October 20, 1967, pp. 513-14.
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"The Bay of Noon" is one of those rare novels that tries to address itself to the reader's intelligence rather than his nightmares. Its assumptions are firm and modest: that the reader will enjoy a sense of place if that place is drawn for him so perfectly that it seems to breathe, that the reader will understand a story based on the interactions of personality rather than mere violence, that the reader will take pleasure in a style that is consciously elegant and literary. (p. 4)
[Style] is the added element that makes the book a good deal more than [a] plain and honest novel…. Ancient Naples, well-worn by all the travel writers, has a sudden freshness in every view; it becomes its name, which means "new city." (p. 5)
Robie Macauley, "The Bay of Noon," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 5, 1970, pp. 4-5.
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In its poignant but clear-sighted exploration of the birth and decay of love, the loss of innocence, and the painful process of self-discovery through love, [the fiction of Shirley Hazzard] seems to take its inspiration from continental models, from Benjamin Constant, from Chekhov and Turgenev, while in its regard for economy of means and perfection of phrase it surely owes much to Maupassant and Flaubert. In its concern with distinguishing true from false values, spontaneous from conventional codes of behaviour, it may owe something to Forster, especially in the two short stories 'Harold' and 'The Worst Moment of the Day'…. If the comparisons I have made with the great European writers seem to imply extravagant claims for Shirley Hazzard's art, this is not my intention; it is rather to place these delicately wrought love stories in their appropriate literary context. (pp. 461-62)
[All] Shirley Hazzard's fiction springs from a … recognition of the supreme importance of love and the difficulty of remembering and conveying the exact experience…. In much of her fiction so far, Shirley Hazzard has been concerned with the process of achieving self-knowledge through loss, disenchantment and recovered vision. Her heroines have a special gift for salvaging what was permanently valuable in past love affairs. Quiet gratitude for former happiness and a frank recognition of transience and human fallibility modify the tenderness of regret...
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R. G. Geering
Shirley Hazzard is … stylish but she … writes with restraint, preferring understatement and implication to explanation and assertion. The controlled sensitivity of her prose gives even to her love stories a slightly detached air. We share the heroine's consciousness, through which the story comes to us, without wanting to identify with her. The artistic detachment is, of course, more obvious in the satirical People in Glass Houses. But, whether in satirical vein or not, Shirley Hazzard is an eminently quotable writer…. (p. 31)
Shirley Hazzard's first book, Cliffs of Fall, reveals an outstanding talent for the short story….
The main subject of this volume (and of Shirley Hazzard's novels too) is love. The point of view is usually the woman's, the source of tension the difference between man and woman in their attitude towards love. Young love is innocent and vulnerable; the women in these stories, older in experience, know this and have come to accept the bondage of love, the pain and sense of loss that follow in its wake. (p. 32)
The man is essentially selfish, ready to betray the woman once his reputation and comfort are threatened. The best account of this occurs in 'A Place in the Country', where Nettie has a love affair with Clem, the middle aged husband of her cousin May. The inevitable break up and disillusionment follow once May finds out…. 'The Picnic' takes up the...
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[Shirley Hazzard has used the phrase 'no-man's land' as] an appropriate correlative to the geographical dislocation which has become such a feature of our own world and times.
The importance of this sense of geographical dislocation is evident in all her work to date: it is common to many of the stories in her first collection, Cliffs of Fall (1963), but more particularly in the two novellas The Evening of the Holiday (1966) and The Bay of Noon (1970). At a quite superficial level it is suggested by the variety of locations she has chosen for her fictions: the novellas are both set in Italy and the short stories take the reader from America to Switzerland, from England to Italy. (p. 182)
The 'loss of geographical and, to some extent, national and even social, sense of belonging' is a deprivation suffered by many of Shirley Hazzard's heroines and is particularly true of Sophie, in The Evening of the Holiday. One measure of her dislocation is to be found in the fact that she is half English and half Italian, and although she frequently travels to Italy to see her relatives she nevertheless considers herself a stranger. And this is so despite her evident pleasure in all that life in Italy affords. But her enjoyment remains the enjoyment of the outsider. This sense is confirmed by the realisation of the difference between the 'exclusively decorative' landscape she experiences as an outsider and...
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"The Transit of Venus" is not a perfect novel. One important character—a handsome, intelligent, heroic American—simply isn't credible; he talks like a fancy book. In fact, many of Shirley Hazzard's characters are a little too well-spoken, too knowing; whenever they open their mouths an insight pops out. This knowingness leads us to expect a comedy of manners. "The Transit of Venus" is not a comedy of manners. Its business, instead, is to break the heart. Although I suppose that such emotions are inappropriate to criticism, I finished the novel angry and in tears.
On the other hand, "The Charterhouse of Parma" was not a perfect novel. Miss Hazzard writes as well as Stendhal. No matter the object—a feeling, a face, a room, the weather—it is stripped of its layers of paint, its clots of words, down to the original wood; oil is applied; grain appears, and a glow. Every epigram and apostrophe is earned. A powerful intelligence is playing with a knife. It is an intelligence that refuses to be deflected by ironies; irony isn't good enough. (p. 159)
Honor, as much as love, is the compulsion of "The Transit of Venus." When we first meet Caroline, she is remote and perhaps arrogant: "She would impose her crude belief—that there could be heroism, excellence—on herself and others, until they, or she, gave in. Exceptions could arise, rare and implausible, to suggest she might be right. To those exceptions she would...
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Marjorie Morningstar is about a curious and good-looking woman whose destiny is entirely wrapped up in the men she chooses. First she picks a flashily sexy but soft-at-the-core lover. But eventually the light dawns, and she sees that the gawk who loved her all along is the real man….
In her fifth novel, The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard retells the Marjorie Morningstar story, only this time the action takes place in England, the ingenue is called Caro Bell, and Mr. Dazzle and Mr. Rightstuff are, respectively, Paul Ivory, a successful playwright, and Ted Tice, whose character, we are told, is "loose on him … like clothes he must grow into." Ill fitting or not, Hazzard is obsessed with his character….
Tice is nice … but one can barely discern this from the action (almost nil) or dialogue (a lot of one-liners), so choked is the novel with purple, image-clotted prose. What's exasperating about The Transit of Venus is not so much that it's a shop worn romance, but that Hazzard ceremonializes the trivia with sententious word-storms. Hazzard's language is humorless and antiquated, but even more disturbing, the sentences often don't really mean anything….
Hazzard spins metaphors so profligately that more of the novel takes place in the realm of almost-as-ifs than in real time and place….
The characters pose rather than act, and Hazzard's attempts...
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[The Transit of Venus] unfolds in rural England, the Chelsea district of London, Japan, the Algarve of Portugal, New York City, Chile and Stockholm. Therefore it evokes place as a necessary condition of its style and the circumstances of its six pivotal characters. It begins at the time of the Korean War and ends with Detente. Therefore it ponders Europe drifting toward anarchy, Soviet tanks grinding into Hungary and Czechoslovakia, political murder in Latin America and social assassination in the United States, and a relentless catastrophe laying waste Southeast Asia. (p. 1)
But the larger world of ideological competition and social hunger serves Hazzard like her ice-water lakes in Sweden, Kleenex-box buildings in new York or lacerated countryside in Britain. She is a projectionist. She focuses her characters into place. They and their climates, terrains and social contracts become one.
The essence of her narrative is that life is a sequence of chance encounters acquiring meaning chiefly through human commitment to a purpose, a belief, a passion. Her primary characters are two women, Grace and Caro, orphaned in Australia, blooming in England, and making their different ways into middle age through jobs, marriage, children, love affairs, disappointment, money, death.
Caro takes risks. Grace plays it safe. Consequently Caro gets most of Hazzard's attention. There's more to learn from her. (pp....
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This engrossing, masterly novel ["The Transit of Venus"] is shaped with an admirable blend of substance and economy. It combines the satisfaction of a family saga (minus the longueurs) with a highly structured plot reminiscent of Greek tragedy, with its sense of doom and its implied acceptance of larger patterns beyond an individual's fate.
[The] novel is filled with a rich constellation of complex human beings whose patterns shift, diverge, resolve, fade out, or become part of other orbits throughout the years. (p. 7)
Shirley Hazzard has even managed to forge a sort of "godlike grammar" to contain her ambitious design. This is reflected in her precise, frequently elliptical style and in a certain distanced outlook, the "godlike" overview that spots the movements of people, then picks out and connects the salient details over a fast-moving, curved sweep of time. (pp. 16-17)
Gail Godwin, "A Novel of Intersecting Lives," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1980 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 16, 1980, pp. 7, 16-17.
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At the center of … The Transit of Venus is the adventurous life story and passionate love story of Caroline Bell, a dark-haired, Australian-born beauty whose fate carries her across three continents and into the lives of three equally various men in the span of three decades, from the fifties to the eighties.
The incidence of the magical number three cannot be accidental in this carefully constructed, powerfully told tale, which is, in fact, divided by the writer into three climactic units. There is, in addition to the evocation of numerical magic, something quintessentially medieval underlying Hazzard's exquisite prose and detailed painting of her characters and the physical nature which forms them. Not only the title, which refers to a unique astrological phenomenon involving the passage of the planet Venus across the sun, but the many references to physiognomy as a signal to character remind one of the portraiture of early medieval writers and astrologers….
Too, when Hazzard describes a house or a street, a garden or a wood, the astute and precise metaphor evoked is like a page of illuminated manuscript in which human and divine figures intermingle comfortably with the curved Latin script….
Caro submits to her fate as if to some fore-ordained script which she has not read, but which she recognizes as each scene is enacted.
Part of this, of course, is the effect of...
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