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The Transit of Venus

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Overview

The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard's most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women—seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal—becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard's novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York,...

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Overview

The Transit of Venus is considered Shirley Hazzard's most brilliant novel. It tells the story of two orphan sisters, Caroline and Grace Bell, as they leave Australia to start a new life in post-war England. What happens to these young women—seduction and abandonment, marriage and widowhood, love and betrayal—becomes as moving and wonderful and yet as predestined as the transits of the planets themselves. Gorgeously written and intricately constructed, Hazzard's novel is a story of place: Sydney, London, New York, Stockholm; of time: from the fifties to the eighties; and above all, of women and men in their passage through the displacements and absurdities of modern life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Hazzard here tells of two sisters, Grace and Caroline Bell. Born in Australia and orphaned at an early age, the two make their way to England. There Grace opts for marriage and its securities; Caroline reaches for more and loves not always wisely but well. ``A strong, deep, poetic, vibrant novel,'' lauded PW. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140107470
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/1990
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 132,676
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 7.86 (h) x 0.65 (d)

Meet the Author

Shirley Hazzard

Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard traveled the world during her early years, a result of her parents' diplomatic postings. In 1947, at the age of 16, she was engaged by British intelligence to monitor the civil war in China. In 1963, she married the writer Francis Steegmuller, who died in 1994. She has written several novels, two of which were National Book Award Finalists: The Bay of Noon (1971) and The Transit of Venus (1981, available from Penguin). She is also the author of two collections of short stories, and several works of nonfiction including the memoir Greene on Capri. Hazzard's most recent work, The Great Fire, won of the 2003 National Book Award for Fiction and the Miles Franklin Award. She now lives in New York, making frequent travels to Italy.

Biography

Shirley Hazzard is not prolific. By the time she was 72, she had published only her sixth novel. That one was her first in two decades. And it was based on an incident in her life that had transpired three decades before that. Clearly, she takes her time.

Perhaps that is why the critics fall to their knees in gratitude upon every new work.

Consider the praise for The Great Fire, a World War II romance:

"If The Great Fire lacks the astonishing densities of The Transit of Venus (a novel that, in its own astronomical terms, was really more like a swirling asteroid belt of connected stories), it still streaks through a reader's ken in the manner of a comet, quickly seizing the attention and emotions before disappearing, trailed by hopes for the characters' happiness — which, like a comet's return, the reader only half believes in." --Thomas Mallon, The Atlantic Monthly

"The Great Fire can be counted with Middlemarch as one of the few novels in English that can hold the attention of an adult without recourse to comedy, freakish plot turns or sentimentality. It is also a classic romance so cleverly embedded in a work of clear- eyed postwar sagacity that readers will not realize until halfway through that they are rooting for a pair of ill-starred lovers who might have stepped off a Renaissance stage." --Regina Marler, Los Angeles Times

"Hazzard's elegiac new novel, the first since her modern classic The Transit of Venus in 1980, sails into port like a magnificent ship of fiction from another era: She writes in stately, compassionate sentences of things that matter, such as the triumph of love over loss, taking time to coax each character out of his or her hiding place of 20th-century unease." --Lisa Schwartzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

Critics have been waiting since 1980, when she published her bestselling account of the lives of two Australian sisters in postwar England, The Transit of Venus, to lavish Hazzard with that kind of praise. Her 2000 reminiscence of knowing Graham Greene in the latter part of his life won praise for being "witty and sharply observed" (Harper's ) and "austere, beautifully written" (The Washington Post), but it was nonfiction. Fans wanted a new novel.

Born in Australia, Hazzard wound up in Hong Kong in her mid-teens when her father, a diplomat, was stationed there after World War II. At 16, Hazzard landed a job at the British intelligence office, a position she has credited with exposing her to both international politics and literature. It was there she also fell in love with an English war veteran in his 30s. Her parents ended the relationship -- to The New York Times she described it as a "massacre" -- and it became the basis for the love affair in her 2003 book, The Great Fire.

Hazzard would meet the man she would marry in 1963 at a New York party hosted by her friend Muriel Spark. Within a year, she and Francis Steegmuller, the noted biographer, were married, and until his death 31 years later, they split their domestic life between New York, Italy, and Greece. It was there she met Graham Greene. At the time, her literary life was just getting started.

Over the years, she has earned a reputation for subtle, exquisitely precise prose and intriguing, complex characters.

"Shirley Hazzard has a blithe disdain for postmodern pieties," The New York Times wrote in 2003. "Her fictions are played out on the elevated ground of high romance, although she is far from being what is generally thought of as a romantic writer. She is unique among moderns in that the irony is confined to her style and not to the work's content. She believes in love -- indeed, she believes in Love -- yet writes about it in such cool, subdued, finical prose that one might be forgiven at times for thinking her a cynic. But she is not."

And, sometimes even 20 years isn't enough to get it right. After the galleys of The Great Fire had already gone out, she called her publisher and said she wanted to revise the final two chapters.

"I still wanted it to be better than it ever could be," she told The New York Times.

Good To Know

Hazzard met the writer Graham Greene when she was able to tell him the line from a Robert Browning poem he was trying to recall over a drink in a Greek café.

She once discarded an early version of The Great Fire.

Hazzard once said of the United States, "Americans' great and secret fear is that America may turn out to be a phenomenon rather than a civilization."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 30, 1931
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sydney, Australia
    1. Education:
      Educated at Queenwood College, Sydney, Australia

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2007

    A reviewer

    It took me three attempts to finally 'get into' the book, and I'm glad that I persisted. This book is rich in character development and insightful in motive. The last few pages reveal a surprise that makes me want to start the book over again to see how Shirley Hazzard did it. Masterful. Warning- Keep a dictionary nearby. Ms Hazzard is very precise in her language and choice of words. Some words were new to me (Such as: 'palliating' and 'inapposite')but greatly enriched the reading experience.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2003

    Lingering

    For some reason this book reminds me of Thomas Hardy's novels - perhaps something in the opening pages of the book. A tinge of melancholy and fatedness. And later on, the wrong turnings taken. It is not quite easy to sum it up, as it works on many layers. It has been a favourite for many years, and I have given it as a present to quite a few friends, who have all enjoyed it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2010

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    Posted February 16, 2009

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