The Transit of Venus Revisited

Michael Gorra takes a retrospective look at Shirley Hazzard's novel The Transit of Venus.

Henry James once wrote that he wanted "to write in such a way that it would be impossible to an outsider to say whether I am, at a given moment, an American writing about England or an Englishman writing about America." The Transit of Venus fulfills that ambition -- or no, it's got a different one, that of making such terms seem irrelevant. It's set mostly in Britain, in the decades after the war, and follows two Australian-born sisters through their very different lives, their very different experiences of sex and marriage and career. Its social landscape will be familiar to any reader of Lessing or Murdoch or Drabble, and yet it is not an English novel. Hazzard lacks the concern with gentility -- for or against -- that marks almost all English writers of her generation. She has the keenest of eyes for the nuances of class, class even in a university laboratory, and yet doesn't appear to have anything herself at stake in getting it all down. Nor is the book exactly American, despite Hazzard's long residence in New York. She has more restraint and less bravado than her American peers and she isn't nearly so ingratiating.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 4, 2008 9:11 AM.

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