Shirley Haz­zard’s writ­ings elo­quently bear out her love of lit­er­ary hu­man­ism and her faith in the power of pos­ter­ity, writes Ge­ordie Wil­liamson

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

There should be a term for the sur­prise, or fris­son, or de­lighted recog­ni­tion that arises when a sup­pos­edly an­ti­quated world view comes roar­ing back into view. Even those who dis­agree with Bernie San­ders’ pol­i­tics, for ex­am­ple, recog­nise that an ear­lier cur­rent of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics is sud­denly back in cur­rency af­ter decades of ide­o­log­i­cal alien­ation. And even those who do not share her religious be­lief must grant that US au­thor Mar­i­lynne Robin­son has, in her nov­els and es­says, re­jigged the 19th-cen­tury thought of ev­ery­one from Emerson to Wil­liam James in ways that gain fresh pur­chase on the present.

It may also be also how read­ers greet this slight but not in­sub­stan­tial se­lec­tion of Shirley Haz­zard’s non­fic­tion, guided into print via the We Need Si­lence to Find Out What We Think: Se­lected Es­says By Shirley Haz­zard, edited and with an in­tro­duc­tion by Brigitta Olubas Columbia Univer­sity Press, 248pp, $57.95 (HB) ten­der edi­to­rial min­is­tra­tions of Aus­tralian scholar Brigitta Olubas and built mainly around three pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished lec­tures de­liv­ered by Haz­zard in 1982 as part of Prince­ton’s Gauss Sem­i­nars. Sup­ple­mented by re­views of con­tem­po­raries such as Muriel Spark and Pa­trick White, pieces re­lated to the flawed UN — where she first worked on ar­riv­ing in the US — and a clutch of speeches, bi­o­graph­i­cal es­says and travel pieces, We Need Si­lence to Find Out What We Think man­ages the dif­fi­cult task of mak­ing old-school, mid-cen­tury lib­eral hu­man­ism feel alive, ur­gent and nec­es­sary once again.

Ad­mit­tedly, taken to­gether, it is not a lot of piece­work to show for decades of lit­er­ary labour. But then, Haz­zard’s mar­riage to scholar, bi­og­ra­pher and trans­la­tor Fran­cis Steeg­muller — whose first mar­riage left him in­de­pen­dently wealthy — freed her from the obli­ga­tion of writ­ing with her left hand. What we have in­stead in th­ese pages are es­says, re­views and rec­ol­lec­tions that re­flect her true loves as a reader, and her cen­tral con­cerns as a writer and pub­lic in­tel­lec­tual. As Olubas ob­serves in a clear and com­pre­hen­sive in­tro­duc­tion, Haz­zard has been shaped in in­ter­est­ing ways by such rare and happy cir­cum­stance.

Though for­mi­da­bly well read, Haz­zard is not of the academy. Mis­trust of the eu­phuis­tic in­ter­pre­ta­tive ten­den­cies of Amer­i­can univer­si­ties in the lat­ter decades of the 20th cen­tury shad­ows her de­fence of lit­er­a­ture through­out. And al­though she has spent much of her adult life at the heart of a great lit­er­ary capi­tol — work­ing and liv­ing on equal terms with those schol­ars, writ­ers and edi­tors whose tal­ents

Shirley Haz­zard in Lon­don in 2004, left; in Syd­ney with her hus­band Fran­cis Steeg­muller in 1976, right; and on her own, below right

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