Culture Buff

Elizabeth Harrower returning to Sydney in 1959

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

25 November 2017

9:00 AM

It is a wonderful story in itself. After a self-imposed ‘exile’ of four decades, Elizabeth Harrower became an internationally acclaimed novelist all over again.

Now in her late 80’s, and living in Sydney, she is the subject of a new publication from Sydney University Press – Elizabeth Harrower: Critical Essays; it includes tributes by multi-award winners Michelle de Kretser and Fiona McFarlane. But the story starts much earlier.

In 2014, over 40 years after she wrote it, Harrower’s fifth novel In Certain Circles was finally published. In 1971, shortly before its planned publication in London, for obscure reasons, she withdrew it. Her first four novels had been remarkably successful.


Born in Sydney in 1928, she travelled to London in 1951 and wrote her first novel, Down in the City, published there in 1957, followed up by The Long Prospect a year later.

In 1959 Elizabeth returned to Sydney, worked in radio then publishing, and her third novel, The Catherine Wheel, appeared in 1960. Often called her masterpiece, The Watch Tower was published in 1966. So, her last minute withdrawal of In Certain Circles in 1970 is all the more perplexing.

She ‘disappeared’ until Text in Melbourne republished The Watch Tower to new acclaim in 2012. The manuscript of In Certain Circles had lain in the National Library; Harrower permitted Text to publish it, to rave reviews. Recently, the New Yorker published major articles about her work.

Happily all her novels are now back in print.

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