Shirley Hazzard PATRICIA MacMANUS - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.