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The Ancient Shore: Dispatches from Naples

3.65  ·  Rating details ·  121 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard first moved to Naples as a young woman in the 1950s to take up a job with the United Nations. It was the beginning of a long love affair with the city. The Ancient Shore collects the best of Hazzard’s writings on Naples, along with a classic New Yorker essay by her late husband, Francis Steegmuller. For the pair, both insatiable readers, ...more
Hardcover, 140 pages
Published November 1st 2008 by University Of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 1976)
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Dec 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Because I've read all of Hazzard's fiction, I decided to read this too. I read it in bits and pieces, never truly engaged until I got to Hazzard's husband's (Francis Steegmuller) piece. His is about a personal experience, even taking us into NYC and then back to Naples to complete the story of the incident. Hazzard's pieces are less personal, her focus being more on the history and culture of Naples.

After finishing the book last night, I woke to read about an earthquake that happened yesterday i
Logophile (Heather)
Jun 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
I lived in Napoli for 3 years, from 2001 to 2003 and the area made quite an impression on my husband and me.
The author of this book has lived in Naples, on and off, since the 50s and I figured this would be a great way to relive some memories and enjoy a return trip on the cheap.
For some reason I very much expected the author to wax descriptive and poetic about the glories and joys, tribulations and frustrations of a half century in Napoli.
Turns out?
Not so much.

It rather reminded me of the scen
Just a delicious collection of essays on 'Siren Land': Naples and its environs.

Inevitably, I've found recently, should you mention your plans to travel to Italy to anyone, that book comes up. The one with the movie, the book that launched a thousand journeys of self-discovery to Italy and India and Malaysia, I think. [A favorite story: Somewhere, in Malaysia (or Indonesia?) there is a cafe with a sign behind the counter that reads: Eat. Pay. Leave.] I've scoffed. I'll admit. I never read the bo
Sep 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ancient Shore, Despatches from Naples celebrates the joy of travel and its discoveries as few travel writers can hope to emulate. I’ve read Hazzard’s fiction and loved it all: The Transit of Venus; The Great Fire; The Evening of the Holiday; The Bay of Noon. (You can find my reviews of all these on my blog by selecting Author-H in the drop-down categories tab in the RH menu). But Ancient Shore is the first work of non-fiction I have read, and it’s fascinating to see how her love of Naples inform ...more
Shirley Ekorn
Jun 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think it possible to write a boring and annoying book about Italy. There are no descriptions of the beautiful visuals, no interesting characters coming to life. It was endless name and place dropping with nothing to fill the vague outlines of where they went and what they saw.
Scott Munden
This book was such a disappointment. I would suggest Hazzard's memoir on Capri and Graham Greene. Perhaps The Ancient Shore would have been more interesting with a protagonist like Greene to go with the setting of Naples. I'd skip this one.
Mary Anne
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My husband got this book for Christmas, and I was so intrigued that I took it up when he finished reading it. The first section is a collection of essays by Shirley Hazzard, musings on the many travels of her life and how she got to Naples. This is a city that is rich with Roman heritage, and she does a marvelous job of pointing out her favorite spots.

Ever present in the Neapolitan landscape, and perhaps psyche, is the volcano Vesuvius. In the chapter titled "City of Secrets and Surprises", Haz
Jan 03, 2013 rated it liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed the longish piece by Steegmuller (Hazzard's husband) about his experience being mugged in Naples and initially cared for in a Naples hospital, and the contrasting experience he had when his recovery continued in a NYC hospital. The infrastructure in Italy was much worse, but the care much more compassionate. I think I will appreciate Hazzard's essays more once I have been to Napoli, a city she obviously has a deep passion for, but writes about in a manner that I found distan ...more
Anne MacDonald
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
7 delicate, subtle essays on Naples yes, but on the nature of travel, frontiers, life and perceptions. Beautiful
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely gorgeous writing. So much soul Hazzard and Steegmuller have and how they capture Naples so beautifully. This is book is a gem.
J Bradbury
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful collection of dispatches from Naples written in succinct beautiful prose. ' A lyrical letter to a lifelong love, honest and clear eyed yet still endlessly enchanted.' Rich in literary references from past poets who have walked her shores.
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
In this collection of essays, Shirley Hazzard gives us insight into the Naples of post World War II as well as present day Neapolitan life. Included is a non-fiction account written by her husband, perhaps my favorite entry.
Sally Edsall
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: italy, travel
Disappointing. The pieces by Hazzard failed to bring Naples to (human) life for me though some of the descriptions were fine. Her husaband, Francis Steegmuller, provides the most vibrant and evocative story about LIFE in Naples.
Robert Hammerslag
Oct 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written, a combined paean to and warning to visitor to modern Naples by a couple who know and love it.
Maria Jerskey
Jul 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: italy, travel, literary, memoir
A beautifully written memoir/meditation on travel. For example, don't you love: 

""We change our skies, not our souls," Horace cautions. Some souls nevertheless bring with them a capacity for joy, an accessibility to other thoughts and tastes, an ear for other tongues, an eye for other beauty: a readiness. Revelation--so inalienable an element of travel that there is even a luggage of the name--takes multiple and often inward forms. Many a traveler departs in the hope of defining an elusive self
May 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a most surprising book. The only thing I have read by Shirley Hazzard was a book about Graham Greene's last days on Capri. Now this book of occasional essays, published in various magazines, brings together some excellent essays about Naples, Italy -- that much maligned city known for garbage strikes, rats, and the Camorra. What is more, the book bodily incorporates a delightful essay by Francis Steegmuller, which I had read decades ago in The New Yorker, about a motor-scooter bag-grab t ...more
Oct 30, 2016 rated it liked it
I picked up this book because Naples is one of my favorite places. It is a large western city that is totally unlike any other. And I envy Ms. Hazzard for having done what I never could --- live there for extended periods.

The book is a collection of essays written obviously over the years. I did not find Ms. Hazard's poetically expressed musings to be all that interesting. But, specifically, her observations on living in a foreign country struck a chord as I recently lived in Parma for a time an
Debbie Robson
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The Ancient Shore is a slim but not slight volume of essays from one of Australia’s most distinguished novelists, Shirley Hazzard with a final essay from her husband the late Francis Steegmuller, editor, translator, critic and literary biographer. The writing is elegant, intelligent and refined and I will let Hazzard speak for herself:
“Whether I wake these mornings in Naples to the Mediterranean lapping the seawall or on Capri to the sight of a nobly indifferent mountain, it is never without rea
Apr 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in Italy
Recommended to Julia by: just found it on the shelf at the bookstore!
Okay, first of all, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but this cover is outstanding and it is quite pleasant carrying it around just for that...that said, I think that there are parts of this book that are outstanding and other parts that are very dry and not so engaging. Each "chapter" is a different writing and they do not all flow together, per se, so some are more enjoyable than others. I think the one titled "the Incident in Naples" by Francis Steegmuller was absolutely outstanding - ...more
Nov 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I stumbled across Shirley Hazzard's "The Transit of Venus" more than twenty years ago and I have been reading her books ever since. Like Hazzard, I spent my early years in the Southern Hemisphere and longed to know the world across the seas. For me too, travel is a pilgrimage to the sacred places of my culture. Once, I could only read about them. Now, I can go there and pay homage. I too have strolled down the quays of Venice and made the lonely walk along the Seine. As Hazzard tells us, "Even t ...more
Aug 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. I've never been to Naples but this collection of descriptive short essays provides a good snapshot of the history, landscape, atmosphere and culture of this city. I especially enjoyed the essay where Hazzard describes the Italian philosophy of la bella figura and how "beauty" is one of the first words that Neapolitan babies learn. Coincidentally, Naples is where the Apuzzo's are from, and there are many references to a Dr. Apuzzo in one of the essays - perhaps a long-lost co ...more
Feb 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Four stars because this is Shirley Hazzard. I don't know why this is a book: a few vignettes of Italian travel. I assume they have been published elsewhere previously but didn't research this. Of course, I would read absolutely anything by Hazzard. I found the piece by Steegmuller is almost comic. An Incident in Naples. It is carefully recorded but I had a tinge of feeling he is overly engrossed with his health. I would defend these two to the end. If you have not read her, don't read this now. ...more
Claire Haeg
Feb 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
A combination of Shirley Hazzard's hauntingly evocative,. almost luminescent descriptions of Naples and her husband's workmanlike descriptive prose. It's a somewhat disjointed book as a result, and Francis Steegmuller's section compares unfavorably, which is a little unfair as most authors would! The first few pages are a description of post-war Naples that should be required reading for every writing class.
Jan 22, 2011 rated it liked it
One of the most beautifully written books about Naples and life in Italy. I highly recommend it not only as one of the best travel books but also as one of the best written books. The author claims the ancient shores surrounding Naples not as a right of heritage or conquest - but as the historian Jacob Burchardt says - by right of admiration. Read this book and understand how travel can make you feel what you can feel - or understand - at home.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Lovely essays from Australian novelist Shirley Hazzard, who has lived in Naples on and off since the 1950s, seeing vast modernizations as well as the preservation of its traditional culture in both charming and violent form (as witnessed in one episode, in which her husband was knocked over by a purse snatcher on a motorbike, ignored by the police and treated like family by all the patients at the emergency room).
Ed Smith
Nov 13, 2009 rated it liked it
A short book but a travel book just the same.
A quick read.
A find for traveler like myself who has been to Italy-Naples-Capri region. Pliny the Younger.

This is also a love letter to her late husband Francis
steegmuller 1906-1994 who co-wrote this travelogue. Where they lived in Italy as
novelists, writers, editors,etc.
His mugging in Naples is a very descriptive one. Finding
doctors to treat him in Naples and NYCity. Looking
back it is a bitter sweet memoir.

Oct 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
I found Shirley Hazzard's introductory chapter a bit choppy. She does have lots of greats quotes from notable writers (Twain, Horace, etc) about Italy; however, my favorite part of the novel is her husband's recounting the time he was mugged in Naples and the wonderfully warm care he was given in the run-down Neapolitan hospitals.
Mar 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
I give four and a half stars to Francis Steegmuller's essay and three to those written by SH. I love Shirley Hazzard's novels (especially .The Transit of Venus), but I much preferred her husband's work in this collection of essays.
Nov 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Naples is a remnant of an earlier, more civilized time. Shabby but fascinating and vibrant in a chaotic way. This book reflects my small experience of the city and makes me want to know more.
The writing style is not my favorite but the baroque fascinations of the city made me keep reading.
Took this out before I went to Italy but then read it after returning.

Very unique story in her travels and what it was like during the war.

Enjoyed reading about Naples during its better days.
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Author of fiction and non-fiction. Born in Australia, Shirley Hazzard now holds citizenship in Great Britain and the United States.

As a child she travelled the world due to her parents’ diplomatic postings and at 16, worked for the British Intelligence in Hong Kong, monitoring civil war in China. After this she lived in New Zealand, Europe, USA and Italy. In the USA she worked for the United Natio