Frank Moorhouse, the celebrated Australian author and essayist best known for the Edith trilogy, has died at the age of 83.
His publisher, Penguin Random House, confirmed on Sunday that he had died that morning at a hospital in sydney.
Author of 18 books, as well as screenplays and essays, Moorhouse explored Australian identity through the career of Edith Campbell Berry, a young woman working as a diplomat in Europe, then Canberra, in three novels published between 1993 and 2011.
Grand Days, set in 1920s Europe, was deemed ineligible for the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 1994 because the judges deemed it insufficiently Australian, a decision that prompted Moorhouse to take legal action. dark palacethe second book in the trilogy, won the award in 2001, while Cold Light was shortlisted in 2012.
ABC journalist Annabel Crabb, a huge fan of Edith Campbell Berry, said: “I know she resonates with a lot of women who are ambitious, energetic, imaginative and slightly chaotic; I have always identified very closely with her. The remarkable thing about Moorhouse was how she could write it so insightfully. Her gender fluidity really marked him. He was a genuine artist.”
Born in Nowra, New South Wales, in 1938, Moorhouse was the youngest of three children. He decided on his future career at age 12, after reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while recovering from a serious accident. “After experiencing the magic of this book, he wanted to be the magician who made the magic,” he said.
At 21, he married his childhood sweetheart, Wendy Holloway, who would later become a literary editor in London after the marriage disintegrated. Moorhouse turned to journalism and became involved in activism and unions.
His first short stories were published in the late 1960s. Many of them followed the same group of people in what he called a “discontinuous narrative…so it wouldn’t look like a failed novel. I decided to pretend that it was a literary form that he had been playing with.”
Along with Clive James, Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes, Moorhouse became part of the “Sydney Push”, an anti-censorship movement protesting right-wing politics and advocating free speech and sexual liberation. In 1975 she played a key role in the evolution of copyright law in Australia, in the University of New South Wales v Moorhouse case, which found that the unsupervised use of photocopiers infringed authors’ copyrights.
Moorhouse wrote prolifically and with irreverence and humor about her passions: food, drink, travel, sex and gender. Early in her fiction, and later in her 2005 memoir Martini, she wrote candidly about her own bisexuality and androgyny. In her writing, she said, she wanted to explore “the idea of intimacy without family, now that procreation is not the only thing that gives meaning to sex.”
In 1985 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to Australian literature and received a number of fellowships, including at King’s College, Cambridge, a Fulbright Fellowship, and at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. His novel Forty-Seventeen won the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 1988.
Professor Catharine Lumby, the author of an upcoming biography on Moorhouse, had put the finishing touches on the book over the weekend when she heard the news of his death.
“When someone of his caliber dies, it feels like he belongs to the public,” he said. “I’ve been a huge fan since I was a teenager, but we met in the ’90s and started talking about the biography in the early 2000s.”
She said that he was “very in touch with his feminine side and very supportive of young women writers. He really understood women and wrote female characters really well.”
“But he wasn’t just a writer – he was an activist fighting censorship, he was very active in women’s liberation and gay rights, and he was instrumental in copyright reform in Australia. And he had a fascination with living well: he loved martinis and all the rituals around them, how you make the perfect one, who you drink with, that spoke to a broader love of life.
“He had a very dry sense of humor and was a wonderful conversationalist, always in a restaurant, I don’t think he ever cooked himself. It was a privilege to have known him.”