Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 219
The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard's 1980 masterwork, traces the lives of two Australian sisters who emigrate to England in the post-WWII era. Grace comes in search of a stable marriage and conventional life, while the intellectually-inclined Caro is intent on a more adventurous path.
At the home of a famed scientist, where the sisters first board, they meet Ted Tice, a brilliant young astronomer. He is enthralled with Caro, and although they will remain friends for decades, his passion is not reciprocated. She falls in love with handsome, rakish playwright Paul Ivory and is soon engaged in an extended and passionate—but emotionally tortuous—relationship. Meanwhile, Grace finds herself comfortably married to successful bureaucrat Christian Thrale.
When Paul eventually marries a cold, wealthy society woman, a nearly traumatized Caro realizes she needs to move on. She marries wealthy American philanthropist Adam Vail. Ted Tice, now enjoying a spectacular career, accepts reality in the form of a more readily available marriage partner.
Years later, following Adam's death, Paul Ivory suddenly re-emerges as his son is dying of leukemia. He confesses a shocking and terrible deed; that his admission of guilt also involves Ted makes it even more unbearably horrible for Caro. The meaning of her life now seems thrown into question, as the novel proceeds inexorably toward its tragic denouement.