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NewSouth acquires new biography of Elizabeth Harrower by Susan Wyndham

NewSouth has acquired a new authoritative biography of Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower by writer, journalist and 2024 National Library of Australia Fellow Susan Wyndham.

Due to publish in mid-2025, the new biography of Harrower provides insight into the powerful and ever-relevant work of this literary luminary. It explores her vast and influential friendship circle and how her life and relationships both shaped her work and led to her withdrawal from it.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Harrower (1928-2020) wrote some of the most intense, original and highly regarded psychological fiction of the twentieth century. After Harrower stopped writing abruptly in the 1970s, she became one of the most puzzling mysteries of Australian literature. What was the source of those brutal stories? How did a working-class girl from Newcastle make herself into a writer of refined fiction? Why did she not continue? Harrower gave elusive answers to friends and interviewers, and only since her death in 2020 has a deeper search been possible. Intrigued by her subject, Wyndham delves into the gaps and contradictions to attempt a more complete portrait of Harrower.

Elizabeth Harrower and her highly charged novels have fascinated me since she emerged from a long silence a decade ago.'

Susan Wyndham

‘Since then I’ve got to know her through interviews, conversations and archival research. Her correspondence and other papers in the National Library of Australia reveal more about her (often secretive) private and public lives, and her wide circle of friends – among them the writers Patrick White, Christina Stead, Kylie Tennant and Cynthia Nolan. I couldn’t be happier that NewSouth will publish my Harrower biography as a natural extension of Hazzard and Harrower: The Letters,’ said Wyndham.

After eight years in London, Harrower returned to Australia in 1959 and stayed within a small radius on Sydney’s north shore. She lived alone, never marrying, but with a rich social life that included close friendships with leading writers, artists, politicians, and many others, ranging from eastern suburbs socialites to communist intellectuals.

These relationships are an important part of her story, a family of her creation. Wyndham places Harrower in the context of the Australian writing community, the books they were writing and reading, notes her influence as a networker, and the lonely challenges of being a novelist – especially as a woman – during that period.

The recent publication of Hazzard and Harrower: The Letters co-edited by Wyndham and Brigitta Olubas has given us insights into her friendship with Shirley Hazzard and the conflicts that sprang from Harrower’s care for Hazzard’s mother, Kit Hazzard, as well as shared interests in literature, the arts, politics and great events of the 20th century.

‘After publishing Hazzard and Harrower: The Letters and reading Elizabeth Harrower’s brilliant and psychologically intense novels and short stories I’m desperate to know more about this enigmatic writer. The reception to the letters demonstrates that readers are eager to know more about Australian writers from this period, in particular female writers such as Harrower, who have had such a profound impact in the Australian literary canon but have not always received their due. Harrower deserves a permanent, prominent place in our literary conversations and we are honoured to be publishing this new biography by Susan Wyndham,’ said NewSouth Executive Publisher Elspeth Menzies.

Harrower received the Patrick White Award in 1996, established by White for writers who had made a significant but inadequately recognised contribution to Australian literature. She faded from sight again until 2012 when Text Publishing brought her four novels back into print, followed by a novel she had withdrawn from her publisher in 1971 and a collection of her short stories.

The books all remain in print and attract new admirers: Down in the City (1957), The Long Prospect (1958), The Catherine Wheel (1960), The Watch Tower (1966), In Certain Circles (2014), A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories (2015).

About the author

SUSAN WYNDHAM is a journalist, writer and 2024 National Library of Australia Fellow. As literary editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and New York correspondent for The Australian newspaper she interviewed Shirley Hazzard and Elizabeth Harrower. She is the author of Life in His Hands: the true story of a neurosurgeon and a pianist, contributing editor of My Mother, My Father: on losing a parent, and a contributor to several other books.

Susan Wyndham
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