The Transit of Venus

by Shirley Hazzard

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

On one level, The Transit of Venus is primarily concerned with the themes of identity formation and the pursuit of romantic love. On another level, the place in modern society of the individual, as an intellectual who helps shape to cultural and scientific knowledge and does not merely consumed received ideas, is another important theme. Questions of personal responsibility as balanced with the greater social good join the apparently disparate themes. The author uses “Venus”—Roman goddess of love and actual planet in the solar system—as a key symbol as it traces a heavenly path that corresponds to the characters’ emotional journeys.

Caroline (Caro), the protagonist, embodies the first two themes. Despite her personal quest for self-fulfillment on her own terms, she finds herself drawn into amorous entanglements that are not always in her best interest. Her passionate love for Paul, a writer who literary accomplishments dazzle her, shows how she sets aside her own convictions to support someone unworthy. In contrast, Edmund (Ted), an astronomer, not only has true love for Caro but develops and uses his knowledge in positive ways; he also demonstrates fidelity by setting aside his feelings out of greater consideration for her. Her sister Grace seems to find her goal in early marriage to Christian, but she must come to terms with the consequences of acting without true conviction. Caro’s growth is finally demonstrated as she finds love and security with Adam, showing she can combined affection with passion—Venus’s passage has been completed.

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