Shirley Hazzard Essay - Critical Essays

Hazzard, Shirley


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.)

Brigid Brophy

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.

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...

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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 permanence….

Within a circumscribed channel, Miss Hazzard has, in The Evening of the Holiday, taken depth-soundings of one of the conditions of love, and done it with such impeccable expressiveness that it seems ungrateful carping to question the term "novel" for what is in fact a long short story in concept and content. As a work of fiction, however, it is quite complete in itself.

Patricia MacManus, "Depth-Soundings of Love: 'The Evening of the Holiday'," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1966 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. 49, No. 2, January 8, 1966, p. 87.

Laurence Lafore

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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Roger Gard

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.

Robie Macauley

"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...

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John Colmer

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...

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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...

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Robert Sellick

[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....

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John Leonard

"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...

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Laurie Stone

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...

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Webster Schott

[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,...

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Gail Godwin

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...

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Martha Heimberg

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...

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