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Novelist Shirley Hazzard

Shirley Hazzard was born in Synday, Australia. Due to her parents' diplomatic positions she traveled frequently as a child, living in China, New Zealand, the USA, and Italy. In the United States she worked for the United Nations in New York in the years 1952-1962. Since then she has been a professional writer and a […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison
and we're coming to you live from the Stanford campus.
When I say we're coming to you live from the Stanford campus,
that's only partly true.
I'm coming to you live.
But today's show was pre-recorded during the Christmas break.
Happy New Year by the way.
I know.
I know it's hard to get back into the saddle.
The new quarter, the classes, the Everest of email.
Electronic mail is a diabolical invention by the way.
It's designed to keep us from thinking.
From gathering ourselves around a center,
it's designed to keep us enslaved to a tyranny of trivia and tintambulation.
Who will rid us of this troublesome toy?
For three weeks I was blissfully unplugged, blissfully out of email contact.
You forget you have a self until you leave your computer behind.
Try it one day.
Anyway, all you hardcore fans of entitled opinions, all five or six of you,
do I love you or what?
I was in Rome over the holidays, but you were never far from my thoughts,
and I've come back with a present for you.
A token of true devotion.
It so happens that one of the best novelists writing in English today was also in Rome while I was there.
Shirley Hazard, author of the Transit of Venus and the Great Fire,
which won the National Book Award in 2003.
It's one of my distinct privileges to be friends with Shirley Hazard,
so what did I do?
I rented a studio in Rome on December 30th and recorded a show for you.
We're talking about the best woman writer of her generation.
That's my opinion anyway.
And here she is on KZSU talking to us about life and literature.
entitled opinions can't start the year off any better than that.
I want to thank my friend Fabrizio Fazconi for helping me to find a studio for the interview.
Grat Cia Fabrizio.
So here we go.
Shirley Hazard and yours truly coming to you from Rome.
Shirley, welcome to entitled opinions.
It's a pleasure and an honor to have you on the show.
Here we are in Rome where we first met each other in the summer of 2003.
At the time you were putting the finishing touches on your novel The Great Fire,
which came out in the fall of that same year,
and went on to win the National Book Award, much deserved for sure.
We'll talk about that book shortly, but first let's give our listeners a brief review of your biography.
You were born on Tule de Gueh in Sydney, Australia.
Your father was in the diplomatic service, which meant that in your early years you traveled around the world quite extensively,
especially in the Far East.
At 16 you were living in Hong Kong and were engaged by the British intelligence in 1947-48 to monitor the Civil War in China.
In 1949 you followed your family to New Zealand, and there I think you worked for the UK's High Commissioner's Office in Wellington.
Throughout the fifties you worked at the United Nations headquarters in New York,
and subsequently published a book, Very Critical of the UN, Defeat of an Ideal.
In 1963 you married the writer and great scholar of French Literature, Frances Stigmuller,
living between Italy and New York mostly.
You became friends with Graham Green at this time, and later wrote a widely read book titled Green on Capity.
Your first novel in short stories were published in the 60s.
In 1970 you published Bay at noon, a novel that takes place in Naples, where you still have a residence.
Then in 1980 you published what many people consider your shed dove, the transit of Venus,
a truly great novel, and then there was a period of over 20 years before your next novel, the great fire, appeared.
It was a long wait for your readers, but well worth it in the end because it was in every way a more than worthy successor to the transit of Venus,
a moving, complex, worldly, voking novel.
I think most of your readers would agree with me when I say that your novels have a unique and extraordinary stylistic signature.
One that combines extreme narrative discretion with probing psychological insight, a masterfully terse yet complex prose that always looks for and finds Le Moseust.
The most astonishing and expressive metaphors of any contemporary novelist I know, and your commitment to description in your books is relentless.
Conrad once said that the written work of art must justify its self-lined by line, and this kind of justification is always at work in your sentences.
Your use of English is at once exact and expansive.
In fact, you inhabit the English language the way only great writers can inhabit it, like someone who from an early age was nourished on its very best literature.
Could you tell our listeners, Shirley, when and how you first were initiated into literature and what kind of literature it was that inspired you the most?
Robert, thank you for such generous words, and I can say that I love poetry before I have a memory.
I know that because my mother told me that when I was an infant and she told me nursery stories, the poems going, putting me to sleep, instead of going to sleep, I would repeat the poems back to her as I heard them.
And that was already innate, and who can explain that people these days want more explanations than they're good for them and explanations don't always tell them what the mystery and the truth is.
I couldn't agree more.
And so that I don't know about before I had memory, I remember poems, and then poetry has been the biggest influence on me, and the feeling forwards that is always in great literature depends a great deal also on the arrangement of syllables, and I don't mean this in the technical way.
The idea that habituates itself with reading, the reading is simply a marvelous adventure in my life, and when I was a little child I was already reading, and even when I was still in a little very little girl at school, I was reading independently reading books that were the books that not only that children read, but books that were dealt really sometimes with the life of a child from inside.
And of course Dickens was the prime mover in that.
And reading, they're conceding David Copperfield, I still can weep at times reading David Copperfield, even though I'm saying to myself, "I'll stop this, you know very well, it's going to be all right."
But not every book or life is all right in there, and I remember that also one of his books, Graham Green says, "We learn about love from books before we are capable of having this experience."
I think it's true, one's imagination is already working on knowledge in the way that knowledge is provided by Master Craftsman, by our wonderful English literature.
In fact, I think if there hadn't been books or poets, there would never have been this phenomenon that we call love in terms of real experience.
But before we came on air surely, you mentioned that the first purchase you made of a book was Robert Browning.
Yes, folks, a little green volume, I wish I had it now, but I don't know what happened to it in my many moves when I was a child in different countries, but it was nine pence, and I had some pocket money, and I was about nine pence.
I was about nine years old, I think when I bought.
They were the poems.
We had, first of all, at school, we had little things like pipper passes, and that did not register tremendously with me, but I began to be interested in him, and I still am interested, a very intelligent poet and very unusual in some respects.
He is in some ways quite out of his time, I think.
So in what poets have had the most sort of effect on you from that period at least.
This is hard to answer because all just the site of poetry, and somehow I knew whether it was good poetry or not just by a grads at it, but then of course I had anthologies.
The anthologies are a precious part of literature, the learning of literature, because anthology, a good anthology, and they mostly obviously are good.
It chooses the best that can choose, and so one grew up in that.
In that school we had poetry, but it tended to be, at school, it tended to be of the heroic cast, and it was, well we had macawley, and these are things you don't forget.
I could still say the whole of those long poems of macawley because you can't, I don't see, you can't get rid of them, I'm glad I know them, but they, of course they lose some ground when one is going deeper, but the great thing, one of the great things for me was to be a good person.
And we had early at school we had the Merchant of Venice, the Tempest, and well the things, even some sonnets of Shakespeare, and this was of course a great plan, I never have lost it, it's part of me.
When you say school, we should tell our listeners that your school education was actually truncated at age 16, I mean this is a constroidanary 15, 15, which means that from age 15 on your relationship to literature was really independent of any formal education, it was all reading, huh?
Yes it was, it was already to some extent independent because you see in my time all this, it was before television, and there was also the solitude and silence of reading for oneself, and the more one read, the more one wanted to read because then you came across references to people you knew mattered, and you would find out who this was, and one goes from one book to another that way.
Yeah, Auden, I know, is one of, it's a poet that you're particularly fond of, did you discover him early on or later?
When I was about 13, he was, you see he was then, but I thought from his photographs he was younger than he was then, but he was then the most acclaimed, I think rightly, of modern poets in English, and he was also so masterly in his gift, and in the most acclaimed,
and in the intelligence, the clarity with which he wrote, and it was irresistible, very beautiful and still it's a very strong thing with me.
And then you came to know him, and I did, I cannot say no him although we met him various times, and he would speak much more freely in conversation with my husband, but he did not, at least in my experience, he would be at a dinner for instance,
he gave very freely of his opinions and was very interesting to listen to, but there was always the feeling that it was impersonal, where of course he did have close friends, but the very close friends were very few, I think, and one couldn't pay him compliments, you know what I mean, it didn't arise to be sitting there saying I worship your poetry, which I could have said, but it wouldn't have come out very well.
Well one poet at the time who was extremely popular was Dylan Thomas, who was still very dear to my heart, was he ever a love of yours as a...
Yes of course, but it wasn't like Gordon, it was very effervescent, very lively, very strong, very lyrical, and I saw him various times, I never met him that I remember, but he would come and read in New York, the YMHA up at 92nd Street,
and he was a platform spellbinder, he was often, I think, quite drunk, and sometimes seemed to weave as he came on the platform and went to the microphone, a little of that might have been affected because he was a performer, but still he died of that, but he was electrifying marvellous speaker and would speak with no notes at all, he would say also his own poems, and he would speak with no notes, whatever,
and deliver a kind of discourse, which he could have done many times, there was a trip to America, I remember that he said as if he were saying it for the first time and I think he had probably said it on many platforms, but it came out with this tremendous spontaneity, Celtic feeling, you know.
I would love to go through all the poets with you and get your take on them, but what about, because you did not go on to become a poet, you went on to become a writer or fiction or novelist, so poetry was your first love I gather, as you said.
And then it goes on being your first love, what about the novelist, are there some novelists in particular that you feel indebted to in your own novel writing and I'm thinking in particular from my own impression of, you know, when I first read the transit of Venus, I had the sense that I was reading the female, a certain female declension of a Henry James type of fiction.
Now, is that a misreading on my part, it was Henry James, an author that was particularly influential for you?
I have been told this many times, that it seems like Henry James, I should tell you that when I began to write and was published writer, and I was very lucky that my first writings were accepted and published in a very good context.
In the New Yorker, who you're a first story, has it?
My first story was accepted by them, and that was...
By the coup.
Holding in one.
Yes, yes.
In the huge golf course, but I had not read Henry James when I began to write.
And then, often people did say this, I think that they were rather influenced, at least in part by the Italian theme, because I began to write because I had come to Italy and was released from this period.
The United Nations Life, which was very sterile, and I've of course I was reading all the time, but then when I had come to Italy and lived in Italian household in Tuscany, it's in a first I lived in Naples, was working there.
I've something changed in me, and I thought, well, I can write something I can try at least to write something.
And I think this Italian theme that I had, and it still recurs in my fiction.
I think that also influenced people to think this is Henry James, and also Northern sensibility meets Torrid South, this stuff.
And I began to, of course, when I was told this so often, I began the reading of Henry James, and I appreciate him.
He certainly has greatness, and many things, especially stories I have put the book down sometimes and said, "I'm marvelous, this is."
And yet, it's never been one of my great passions.
There is something withheld in James, and I'm certainly not the first person to remark on that.
And something dispassionate in the books.
I don't mean he should be shouting from the host tops, but there is something of a full heart that he never really gives you.
Of course, writers don't have to conform to some system, but one waits for a full acknowledgement that doesn't come, I think, with James, or very rarely.
However, the books are marvellously written, and they are full of, we're not only full of impressions, one never loses, but they have a genius in them too.
When it comes to withholding, can you think of an example, a contemporary to James, an author who is not withholding, but who is completely generous in giving, in order to get a better sense of what it is that you find not forthcoming in James?
That's a good question that is, and of course, when one goes to give an example, once mine shoots over a lot of people, but I think that, well, when I was growing up, there were, obviously, a generation or two-old, but there were a number of women writing who were important, there was Rebecca West, who was the knowledge generation, the Virginia Wolf, there was Elizabeth Bowen, there were a number of very intelligent women,
and writing what would be dismissed as women's novels, this kind of thing, but they weren't, they were novels that had the certain mastery.
And in those books, although every writer I've just mentioned seems to be reserved, partly because of the times, where it wasn't the thing to break out, still there are very full emotions in there,
Elizabeth Bowen, the House in Paris, this is very strong and sometimes almost non-bearable tension in it, the little girls, also, those novels, and I came to know her, we came to know her and later years a wonderful person, and as so often really in my experience, very like her books, it was the person who would have written those books.
Some of us at Mom is a name that is still very much with us, he's the favorite of a lot of readers, my mother, for example, loves him to death, and many of the people I know who are novel lovers, have a particular affection for some of us at Mom, is that an author that you read with any sort of regularity?
Yes, he was of course very much around when I was beginning to be at a lesson, I was very aware of him, but he'd been around a lot before that.
And your craftsman, certainly, you see those generations, they knew how to write, they had a marvelous vocabulary, they had read a great deal, they were very rich in what they had to say and rich in the language, and I still would read with pleasure,
some of us at Mom. There is something there, not exactly withheld, but it's never only in certain moments, in certain passages you feel, yes, this is his full strength, and he seemed in a way to accept that, he was a storyteller, and that is, I don't say that for a moment in a pejorative or diminishing way, that's what a novelist should be, we should tell stories, we should interest people.
And in that way, that is where the withholding shouldn't come in, there should be something that grips people, where they don't feel yes, but what did you ultimately mean by this?
Mom, when, at the end of the Second World War, when I was still, I don't know what I was, to obvious old or something, there were films made of stories of war,
and this was an experiment, there was a film called "Quartet" with four stories of Mom, of Mom, and there was a trio, and I think there were three different films made, and one saw ideal how he was, the films were very faithful to the stories they represented, he was so good at this, telling a story that could be visualized, and of course they were very well at,
and they were very well-elected by something, the actors at that time, they were digging those up again, they were wonderful, and there was no distortion of them, they were faithful, people hadn't got the idea, well now we can throw in the mud, something, so...
Well I remember my esteemed form going up tremendously once when I read him saying that I know that I'm not a major writer, but I am in the very first ranks of the minor writers, very few novelists of his stature would have the humility to say that I think of the same, yeah, especially the same.
And that can be said without the slightest self-denial, because our literature is so rich in great writing, that we don't have trouble in accepting the fact that we're not of the dimensions of our greatest writers, and what a variety in English literature, huge variety of different approaches.
No, it's a blessing to be born into the English language for that reason, not even talking about the poetry, no, or the theatre.
So before we turn to your own work, surely one last thing about the French tradition, because you also are perfectly native in French as well, and did the French novelistic tradition, especially your husband Francis, who was the great flowbearer scholar, did 19th century French fiction or post or was it important for your...
Yes, for you. Yes, I was already in... I loved French poetry, that was again how I came into it, and I loved French poetry, and then I began, of course, reading "One Just Reads at Random, I Didn't Have Any System", and thing of this sort, or explanations to myself, I just rippled in doing this, and even before I met Francis, I was very interested.
Well, stories of Mopas are like when I was very young, they were also of this craftsman storytelling kind, he realised he had duty to his readers to captivate, to thrill them, to make them feel some anguish, and I loved those stories of Mopasil, and then the school we also, we had
seen, I was already in love with the literature, but Francis, he, of course, he made me feel strongly about flowbearer. He spent a great deal of his life with flowbearer, and in fact I spent a lot of my life with flowbearer when we were married, because we had men out of where with flowbearers.
He always, whatever else he did, because of course he wrote on the Polynair, he wrote on many other themes, wrote on Mopasil, but there was always flowbearer coming up again, and then he said,
"He's a spooky one to have in between, and that's the friend of ours said, what are you doing now to Francis when he had finished a certain book, his life of coke too?"
He said, "Well, I was thinking of translating a couple of volumes of flowbearers, let us, which of course are incredible documents, and this friend said, 'Are there two L.A. May I trust?'
Well, in my opening remarks there, I was saying that in my reading of your works, that there is this very deliberate search for the limo juice, which I take to be a very French 19th century
and it's kind of imperative, both for poetry and for fiction, certainly for a bit, believe that there was a right word for every sentence for the phenomenon or description.
So, as we transition now into your own work, the transit of Venus, since we don't have that much time to talk about all the novels that came before, but my first experience of reading was really the transit of Venus.
Apart from the Jamesian echoes, which I thought I was hearing, but now I realize that it was more accidental than not.
I was struck by this sort of aesthetic of a really finding that there is a right word for every occasion, and that you over and over again managed to find that word.
Whether that word is just semantically a semantic word or whether it's the right metaphor, but one has a sense that once you've committed your words into a sentence that you could not substitute another word for an already given word, do I get...
I love your saying that, I feel you see, Flobel said, "Portrey is... no, he said that writing poetry prose, whatever it was, is his precise as geometry, meaning there is an exact word.
One does feel, I feel quite often, there is a word here that I need, and it goes against the grain to pass over, leave the word blank, and I put something there, but how often one can be, I won't say satisfied, but pleasantly surprised as you put in your mind the request in a certain way.
The mind has worked on that when you come to redo this sentence, you will find a better word, but of course sometimes you have to settle, you come as close as you can.
But when one talks about words that way in the rhythm of the sentence is so important in the meaning, one can have the rhythm, the importance of very simple sentence, one can have that in the mysterious way, the words taken one by one are not very telling or history on the other.
And yet it falls together and certainly an influence on this was that when I was a child, when the second world war was raging, there was a great orator who was on the airwaves, and he rose to it as somebody said he marshalled the language and sent it into battle.
And it's quite true, I think, what has been said that he influenced really the course of the morale, really of the people, written to stand alone in those years which now people perhaps don't even realize what an extraordinary thing it was that they were able to come through it and even to convince the monster Hitler that he should not invade them, it's going to be too costly and not only in lives, but in the spectacle he'll make on earth.
And people were not so disturbed about his invading Russia, of course, western people.
However, he had a church, I think had a perfect year for what he wanted to say and sometimes it was the simple truth which we don't expect from politicians.
But when France was falling in 1940 he went on the airwaves and the first words he said, "Well, the news from France is very bad."
And that is a little more authentic, not only because it's a politician telling bad news and telling it truthfully and not pretending things are going to get better in a hurry.
And the things made impression on me not because I worked it all out, but this one syllable and this was a return also to anglosex and values in language and he knew when to do that.
So all these things worked on you, we were listening more towards, I think, then.
That's fascinating to think that if Churchill had not had a poetic virtuosity in his rhetoric and his oratory that maybe the war itself would have ended up differently.
I don't know because even in earlier times in the 1920s an extraordinary essay was written on Churchill and one thing that comes to was his command of words.
And he has a long history going back to the oratory and the rhetoric among the Romans, among the Greeks and the words.
And the Gibbon, he took the great deal from Gibbon. I don't mean a stole. I mean he understood the power of these sentences.
So Loomojus is not just something that novelists have to concern themselves with. If the politician could find Loomojus, we don't find politicians concerning themselves with the most use.
Not very much anymore. Not very much.
Surely not all our listeners will have read the transitive Venus or the great fire, but I'll encourage them to do that right after the show. Let's just talk about the transitive Venus first as if everyone out there has read it so that I can ask you some questions that intrigued me in the narrative of these, well, the lead protagonist, Carol, not to summarize the story.
And the mention that you have an extraordinary capacity to forge metaphors, which is part of the art of Loomojus as well. And to bring alive not just characters, their interiority through the right metaphor, but also situations, context, environments and whole worlds as in the great fire.
The metaphors are not like other sorts of units of speech because they do require a certain kind of inspiration or intuition. One cannot just will the right metaphor on all occasions. Sometimes they just really have to come to you. Just out of curiosity, do you labor on the construction of metaphors when you're writing a novel?
I can't say so. I couldn't call it labor because I enjoy this revolving light as it was searching for a rambourance head however empty or forward it might be. But looking for a word or an image and the imagination plays such a part in that.
And again I return to the fact that it's not an organized process. Of course you get experience, you begin to realize what you can do more or how you can arrange. But everybody who has any talent at this will do differently.
And while it may be useful to have those writing courses at universities and colleges that you study the writing of fiction and hope that you will write, it is probably very useful in nowadays that young people read much less in introducing them more to the structure, to the vocabulary, to changing, enlarging their ideas and their vocabulary. And yet I think it's something innate also that we also are trying to express ourselves.
There's something about the contemporary fiction which irks me no end which is the contrived metaphors. You can see that the author says how am I going to come up with some kind of comparison here? And very often it rings false or it's just someone taking a narcissistic pleasure and being write early rather than rather than as you say the unique.
The name is pretty giving an example of that said in the review novelist Wins Long Jump.
But here let me read a passage from the transit of Venus here about Carolyn Bell took out a dark dress, bought a broad which alone of her clothes, created the effect that might in some future time, or very soon be entirely hers.
Already that's a sentence that one has to reread because of the syntax and find out why a dress which she owns will one day be entirely hers. But let's go on. She hung the dress up in her room where she could see it, like bunting for a festival. She had scarcely worn it and liked to think how she had bought it with a pile of pastel colored bank notes on her last morning in France.
Dora had subsequently gone to pieces over the price, Dora being the protected zanth. When the time came she took the dress down from its hook and it slipped into her arms like a victim.
What it does is create a relationship between Carol the person and her not only her dress but the whole phenomenon of clothing.
It's going to be part of her destiny somehow. And then later there's a scene where she's actually without any clothes at all with ivory. Although she is wearing all she wore was a round watch.
It's never that complete nudity. And this is only one of many instances in this book where clothing seems to take center stage, what center stage is the wrong metaphor myself, but where the relationship between person and apparel is being worked out.
I find it to be too consistent to be either accidental or secondary. I wanted to ask you if there's a way in which a person's clothing in this novel now we're talking reveals something about that person.
Or is it something which merely covers over and it can obviously be both? Do you feel like saying something about the symbolic or metaphorical role that clothing has in this book?
Yes, you see, Carol in this thing where she takes her clothes off. I'm thinking that a 17th century poet in this poet wrote about Julia when as in silk's my junior goes.
And then he speaks about this silk dress and the liquefaction. How seductive was the liquefaction of her clothes. But then there's another poem of his, well it's the same poem really.
And he says but beauty sells she is when all her clothes are gone. And it's a progression. It's not that it's not a simple, I'm dressing up this woman. It's a progression of the images that lead up to the feeling yes and then there is the person, the real person inside of the short of seeing her without these clothes.
And so it's a whole process of seduction in a way. Sure it is. And the of course when the clothes finally all come off that doesn't mean that one has arrived necessarily at any kind of essence of the person because one can go even further than that in terms of for example the technology of X-rays.
And why do I speak about X-rays is because Grace, Carol, sister and the doctor their relationship begins as they look at X-rays of Grace's son who is ill.
And there's a point where well let me read this to you. There were matters she had glimpsed in a mirror. She felt his view of her existence settling on her like an ornate in febling garment closing on her like a trap.
She leaned back on the unyielding sofa and he stood confronting it was an allegorical contrast sacred and profane love for rapture offered like profanity.
To assert or retrieve she said, "There has been nothing lovelier in my life than the times we sat together at the hospital and looked at the photographs, meaning X-rays." He came back to the sofa and replaced his hand on hers, a contact as essential and external as the print of fingers on X-rays.
It was like Paolo and Francesca from Kanto 5 of Nancy Sanfeda where the two lovers are reading about the Lancelot,
or winner here.
That day they read no further.
That's right.
So here is the X-rays that do the mediation for this.
But I'm very fascinated by the let's say the metaphor of X-rays or the symbol because in X-ray is something that actually sees through the naked body,
it goes even deeper into the organs of the skeleton and things of that sort.
So can you say by analogy that there's a way of writing where an author like yourself is, again, analogically speaking, always involved in a kind of X-raying of certain characters so that you get not into their get through to the body but into their psyche or their spirit or the soul, whatever you want to call it?
That is a very interesting image.
I certainly mean by my reference to X-rays.
I do mean that now they are coming closer to reality and also when this woman first is shown those X-rays, it's her own son.
And she has a young son.
She's thinking of his mortality.
She's very distressed because then she sees this body which has got something wrong with it.
But she's also seeing the body of her son who's well and will get better and is not at present, not at that moment threatened with death, but she is brought close to the fact that it's a view of a skeleton.
And that you see this is a new thing that came into our lives only in the past century that you could X-ray the body because before that nobody had seen a skeleton unless the person had died.
And now we know what our skeletons look like and they do remind one of them and to mold the skull especially has this effect of some mortality.
So we have an experience that hasn't been had before and I wanted to bring this into play.
And of course you don't see the person in the sense of the personality.
All the soul, thinking, feeling, rebellion, the complacency, all that is not seen in this skeleton.
We are just looking at the dead as if the blood is dead.
That's in the literal X-ray.
But when one reads the transitive Venus, it's your work as the author to provide certain kind of psycho-cyclical spiritual X-ray.
That's why I've said that image jumped out at me and also if it's powder and phrencisco, I mean that is one of the original stories of love and that's the most lovely thing.
But you see when the hands meet, of course one is at that moment I hope seeing the bones.
I have prepared the ground that it's their bones that are meeting because they are in that moment aware of more tells.
Can we move on to the great fire?
I want to ask you also those 20 plus years that in between, of course you're writing other things, so forth.
But this was a long gestation period for a novel which turned out to be a truly extraordinary and where you're evoking a world which is in utter collapse.
I would say that it's situated right after the war, 47, 45, 48 and it takes place in Japan, Hong Kong, some little bit New Zealand.
And one has a very strong sense of the end and collapse of one world and not yet the beginning of a new world.
And you have inserted into that context, historical context, your characters.
There is a love story, definitely involved, but it's not a love story.
The context is not there for the sake of the love story as I read it.
I think that the love story is embedded in such a way that it participates in this particular historical moment of suspension.
Could you say a word about how, what this great fire, again not just literally the great fire thing, but what?
What World War II did to bring an end to a certain kind of world or collapse it?
And those few years or even a decade before we even knew what kind of new world was going to be taking over?
Yes, I regard the Second World War and many people have said this other than myself other than I.
The Second World War was the extension of the most terrible war in my view that ever took place which was the 1914-18 war.
Terrible more than any war because it was a high civilization committing suicide.
Western Europe committed suicide in that war.
The millions of dead and it's well after such knowledge, what forgiveness it said.
Then the sense of a future change, there had been even if there was a sadonic feeling about it.
There had been the sense of a future, there had been among some people a moral sense something to rely on.
There would be continuity after that that was exploded and there would be no more of that.
The next thing to come was of course that the 14-18 war was unfinished and began again very soon.
In fact there was barely one generation who escaped being slaughtered in that way.
I grew up with that huge echo that I was born years after the Great War was over but with this huge echo of the Great War which influenced everything.
There were monuments in every little town, there were monuments to the dead and my father had been at the age of 17 being in the trenches in France in the First World War
and all the fathers of my little school friends had also been there and they never spoke about it.
There was something about this eerie thing that they never spoke and we were unspeakable.
Exactly it was.
We sent the horror of it somehow this awful thing and then suddenly there was this second war and so all this was go over it but all this was before our eyes.
Then immediately after the Second World War my father was appointed to go to the Far East to in the diplomatic sense to report on possibilities of trade.
As Japan was occupied but would be coming out of this is a very productive country and the whole of Southeast Asia which had been in flames China was still with the Civil War.
Nevertheless there was this huge territory that could be thought to have a commercial future and we then went sailed from Sydney and five weeks later we made our first land for which was at Kooray in the inland sea of Japan and Kooray is the port of Hiroshima.
And of course immediately somebody took us in the Jeep to see Hiroshima and I am surprised really at the way this lasted because when I was very 16 and at that age you say what your parents say or you say you agree with them to shut them up because they're not going to send for an argument.
I had very strong feelings about this but I didn't know how to express them.
It was we had seen all through the war newsreels of the terrible bombardment of cities first of all London and then the German cities in the last year of the war these things.
We'd seen every kind of destruction except this that this wasn't like the customary bombardment.
It was a vast city incinerated, it was a nashes, it was a part from the famous building with the dome, the grid of the dome was there.
Apart from that I don't remember anything else, it was mostly extraordinary sight.
And I don't mean that I was under struck on the spot although in some way I was but everyone was saying oh dear and there was a thing that didn't come to pass for very few months people said well now there's one good thing comes out of it, they can never be war again.
It's looking back it is so naive because in no time it was the Soviet Union and the Cold War and we're going at it again.
But it did remain with me tremendously the sight of that place and also the fact that it had no living being and no one was moving, there wasn't a sign of anything.
They were already building being Japanese very industrious very disciplined, they were already rebuilding on the outskirts where they should not have been rebuilding because we didn't know the effects of that.
But there was this feeling of something new had something quite different that happened and it had.
My impression reading the book is that there's an underlying pessimism, well on the one hand there's a love story which actually it's not like it's a happy ending but it seems to promise a new beginning and that life can now take hold after so much death.
And the last line of the book is about how Aldrid, Leith and Helen are not dead, not yet.
They're going to die, we're all mortal but somehow against all odds and obstacles this near impossible love actually was able to realize itself.
But it seems to have some sort of positive inflection and yet there's this underlying pessimism in my reading of it which is that after two such calamities and Hiroshima and so forth that the insanity of war has not been brought to an end necessarily.
There's something in our fellow citizens that is quick to forget or very quick to re-embrace.
Yes the primitive which is now armed to the teeth with very very highly developed weapons of primitive and it's my hero is it,
who's a hero from the war who's been through so much slaughter its he who feels that because the girl and that's one of the strong attractions for him she is much younger and hasn't been through this conflict although she's lived in it but she's been aware and knows that this happened but he is thinking that is the end of the book.
He's going to grasp at life while it's there and he has seen he is haunted by the slaughter he's participated in and he has seen and he's been a victim as well as an inflicter but he says to himself many have died and he knows that there will be more conflict many have died but not she not he not yet and he means to grasp this life that's been a bit of a
being offered to him partly really in recompense for the fact that so much life has been lost somewhat he must make the attempt to live it fully.
Yeah I think some earlier in the novel at a certain point he described as the one soldier who lived out what the soldier tells himself in moments of extremity and battle that if I get out of this alive I will make every hour count how few of them actually end up going on and
conforming to that whereas your hero is determined to the very end to make every hour count.
And don't you think that all of us nearly all of us have such an experience in for instance if you're threatened with the possibility that you have some mortal disease and you're looking for results you think if this is all right make the most.
Well I have or I will complain again and then how quickly once forgetting and complaining again you know.
One should not need to have be so threatened in order to have that realization and at the same time so many of those who do pass through such moments how quickly they do forget it after.
Yes they shared it because they would live differently obviously if it were constantly with them constantly acknowledged and yet.
Well I think if our society as a whole lived like that with that awareness then war would be a thing of the past.
Yes of course.
Yes and we wouldn't give in to petty annoyances the way we do or for safe friendships or be angry for nothing for very small causes I think.
It's astonishing how contradictory a species we are that on the one hand we are we're totally almost rapidly attached to life and at the same time we have such a devaluation of it and content for it that you know our behavior you know goes in both directions.
This is yeah go ahead. No it isn't it strange I think of this very much and also that we are as far as I can tell we are the only species the only kind of life that does this because we can reason when we know we're going to die we all know in the course of things that we're going to die so we should be able.
Really to grasp life to be more rational to be larger in our thoughts and minds and in our actions and there is this dichotomy all the time of giving in to definitely
those are the wars those are the rages people have and they are also domestic things people having trouble among themselves and being furious and full of hatred and yet that doesn't seem to be any effect from our consciousness of mortality on that until it's right there.
Unless you say that we are taking revenge somehow or externalizing the fact that we're mortal and to use Freudian terms that we are we're playing it out rather than working it through our mortality.
Surely this is probably an impossible question to end on but after the calamities of the 20th century those two world wars in particular but there are many others at the same time is horribly violent century at least the first part.
Are you disappointed in the way the second half of the century played out yes of course can you imagine yeah I think there were many opportunities to do better than we did we have terrible leaders really.
We don't have there obviously are some people who have tried to be better than the people who get the top of the people who get to the top by and large they are very very disappointing and I don't see why looking around the world seeing the horrors of these conflicts that we're all now sees by and frightened by.
I don't see why people with great power cannot really reconcile themselves to reconciliation why they can't set themselves out to do differently instead they are instigating us to hate all the time they're bringing up the hate of the house I say the the monstrous qualities of those who become our enemies and they're exacerbating the thing and I'm not saying this could be easy but there could be a very different time.
There could be a very different tone in the leadership instead of inciting us to hate people we've never set eyes on or who have never harmed us sometimes going and harming them for preemptive strikes a sort of thing I think it could be very differently managed I used to have but long ago this is I used to have a hope that if women came into the picture more.
In politics in leadership it would change but really a lot of these women seem to be just bloody man is as.
It seems intractable yeah it's maybe if they were better readers surely or maybe if they read you know I think that's something that literature could.
Solve I think very easily but the problem with literature is that it doesn't base itself on any kind of compulsory course of power when it's turned to it is should not lose it would lose precisely that.
I tell you a strange thing that when the 1914 war broke out Freud of course was alive and not young but in his middle years and Churchill was alive and one was presumably the thinker and the other man was the man of action and had been a man of war.
And Freud exalted when the 1418 war broke out he his barographer and faithful disciple Ernest Jones tells this very frankly and says he was almost hysterical with delight Freud when the when in August 1914.
And in addition to saying how marvelous it was that this was happening Freud said at last I feel fully Austrian which is in the context of very important remark I think.
And in the meantime a Churchill who was separated for a few days from his wife wrote to his wife and said this is a ghastly calamity it will mean the end of civilized things for us and.
He said it could have been it could easily been prevented by the leaders getting together they did not have to do this and it's going to be the worst conflict never was and then he says and I.
He said I.
I I reproach myself so much that I have this in me.
I have the capacity to be satisfied by this idea of going to war in this way and he says I pray to God to take this aspect of myself away and of course it served him later in he was able to be very staunch but and even to be great but.
It's interesting to me that the thinker had no hesitation and the men of action and more felt this is a this he says this is a calamity.
Surely this this encounter in conversation is it's not fortuitous in the sense that we're both in Rome and we planned it out but I'm hoping that either in New York or maybe next time we're in Rome together.
We will go on to part two of our conversation.
I would love to do that thank you and I'm glad we're in Rome. Thanks very much thanks very much.
We've been talking with Shirley Hazard by name is Robert Harrison for entitled opinions.
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