June 5, 2012

Our last Transit of Venus

My mother said she used to stare directly into the sun when she was younger, because she didn't know any better. I think I did, too, until some kind soul advised me against it. Sounds like a dumb thing to do, but it's only natural to be drawn to that light in the sky, isn't it? I mean, some people actually stare at the sun for a living. And they are probably all really excited about tonight's Transit of Venus, which is the last one we'll ever live to witness — the next isn't until 2117.

Strange to imagine that babies born next week won't grow up to see even one, while most of us lived through two (the last one was in 2004). But they will still be lucky enough to read Shirley Hazzard's wonderful novel by the same name: The Transit of Venus.

“Once we were walking in Florence,” she recalls. “And there was a red coat in a shop window—I had already cast an eye on it. Francis stopped me and he said, ‘Just a moment! One of your heroines has a red coat, and I don’t think you’ve ever had one. I think we should go in and try that on.’” The coat was reminiscent of one Hazzard had imagined for Caroline Bell in a pivotal scene of The Transit of Venus. Steegmuller bought it for her.
--Shirley Hazzard's interview with Narrative

It's not hard to imagine that details of one's real life can pop up in one's fiction, but isn't fantastic to think that the reverse happens, too? It's like when you dream of something wonderful, and then you make it happen in real life. Sometimes it's simple — for example, you dream about a glorious ice cream sundae, and then you wake up and recreate it for breakfast. Easy peasy. Writing a novel like The Transit of Venus and then having your husband buy Caroline Bell's red coat for you on the streets of Florence? Well, that's a whole other level of accomplishment.

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