Shirley Hazzard

Greene on Capri, a memoir

Farrar, Straus, Giroux

New York, 2000
bibliothèque insulaire
parutions 2000
Greene on Capri, a memoir / Shirley Hazzard. - New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000. - 149 p.-[8] p. de pl. : ill. ; 22 cm.
ISBN 0-374-16675-7

NOTE DE L'ÉDITEUR : When friends die, one's own credentials change : one becomes a survivor. Graham Greene has already had biographers, one of whom has served him mightily. Yet I hope that there is room for the remembrance of a friend who knew him-not wisely, perhaps, but fairly well-on an island that was « not his kind of place », but where he came season after season, year after year ; and where he, too, will be subsumed into the capacious story.

For millennia the cliffs of Capri have sheltered pleasure-seekers and refugees alike, among them the emperors Augustus and Tiberius, Henry James, Rilke, and Lenin, and hosts of artists, eccentrics, and outcasts. Here in the 1960s Graham Greene became friends with Shirley Hazzard and her husband, the writer Francis Steegmuller ; their friendship lasted until Greene's death in 1991. In Greene on Capri, Hazzard uses their ever volatile intimacy as a prism through which to illuminate Greene's mercurial character, his work and talk, and the extraordinary literary culture that long thrived on this ravishing, enchanted island.

THE NEW YORK TIMES, February 3, 2000 : […]

But just as evocative is the picture of Capri composed by Ms. Hazzard's study of Greene, the island's history, its role as a magnet for expatriates and tourists, its inhabitants and physical setting. Of one villa they visited she writes sensuously, « Fersen's in those years was a garden of mossy textures and dark dense greens, with impasto of luminous flowers: a place of birdsong and long silence; of green lizards and shadowy cats, and decadent Swinburnean beauty ».

Most appealing of all is the picture Greene on Capri  paints of a literary life, not only Greene's but also the author's and her husband's [Francis Steegmuller]. Some of the best moments in these pages are the accounts of routines that brought Ms. Hazzard together with Greene: « It was very pleasant, putting work aside at the end of the day, changing into fresh clothes, strolling to the piazza in that scene of sky and sea: the late light, the expectation of interest and pleasure, the welcome at the restaurant, where we all preferred to dine, by south Italian summer standards, quite early ».

Capri is haunted by its past, Ms. Hazzard makes clear, from the time of the Emperor Tiberius's exile there in the first century A.D., up through the years in the early 20th century when Russians established a community there, among them Maxim Gorky, who had as his guests Chaliapin, Ivan Bunin and even Lenin.

By the time of Greene's arrival in 1948, Ms. Hazzard writes, there would never again be « a literary or artistic 'colony' of closely knit and disputatious foreigners as in the past, wearing away damp winters at each other's firesides: gossiping and quarreling, reading and writing in an ancient and still enchanting place ».

But after reading Greene on Capri  it is hard to imagine visiting the island without recalling a more immediate past. Such is the intensity of her memoir that you will see Capri through the eyes of Ms. Hazzard and be haunted by the spirit of her quarry, Graham Greene.

➙ « Greene on Capri  : Isle Haunted by the Past and a Grumpy Presence », review by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt


mise-à-jour : 15 août 2018