Frank Moorhouse, Australian writer and essayist, dies aged 83

Frank Moorhouse, the celebrated Australian writer and essayist best known for the Edith trilogy, has died aged 83.

His publisher, Penguin Random House, confirmed on Sunday that he was in a hospital in… Sydney

The author of 18 books, in addition to screenplays and essays, Moorhouse explored Australian identity through the career of Edith Campbell Berry, a young woman working as a diplomat in Europe, then in Canberra, in three novels published between 1993 and 2011.

Set in 1920s Europe, Grand Days was ineligible for the Miles Franklin Prize for Literature in 1994 because it was deemed insufficiently Australian by the judges, a decision that led Moorhouse to take legal action. Dark Palacethe second book in the trilogy, won the award in 2001, while Cold Light was shortlisted for it in 2012.

The ABC journalist Annabel Crabb, a big fan of Edith Campbell Berry, said: “I know she resonates with many ambitious, energetic, imaginative and slightly chaotic women – I have always identified very closely with her. The remarkable thing about Moorhouse was how he could write her in such a shrewd way. His gender fluidity really characterized him. He was a real artist.”

Born in Nowra, New South Wales, in 1938, Moorhouse was the youngest of three brothers. He settled on his future career at age 12, having read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while recovering from a serious accident. “After experiencing the magic of this book, I wanted to be the wizard who made the magic,” he said.

At the age of 21, he married his high school sweetheart, Wendy Holloway, who would later become a literary editor in London after the marriage fell apart. Moorhouse entered 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 story”… so that it wouldn’t be seen as a failed novel. I decided to pretend that this was a literary form that I had been tinkering with.”

Along with Clive James, Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes, Moorhouse became part of the “Sydney Push” – an anti-censorship movement that protested right-wing politics and championed freedom of speech and sexual liberation. In 1975, he played a fundamental role in the evolution of copyright in Australia, in the case University of New South Wales v Moorhouse, which found that the unsupervised use of copiers infringed authors’ copyrights.

Moorhouse wrote prolifically and with irreverence and humor about his passions – food, drink, travel, sex and sex. Early in his fiction, and later in his 2005 memoir, Martini, he wrote candidly about his own bisexuality and androgyny. In his writing, he said, he wanted to “explore the idea of ​​intimacy without family – now that reproduction isn’t the only thing that gives sex meaning”.

In 1985 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to Australian literature, and received several fellowships, including a Fulbright Fellowship from King’s College, Cambridge, and the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. His novel Forty Seven won the Gold Medal of the Australian Literature Society in 1988.

Prof Catharine Lumby, the author of an upcoming biography on Moorhouse, had put the finishing touches to the book over the weekend when she heard the news of his death.

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“When someone of his caliber dies, it feels like he belongs to the public,” she said. “I was a big fan since I was a teenager, but we met in the 90s and started discussing the biography in the early 2000s.”

She said he was “very in touch with his feminine side and so supportive of young female writers. He really understood women and wrote female characters so well.”

“But he wasn’t just a writer – he was an activist who fought against censorship, he was very active in women’s liberation and gay rights, and was central to copyright reform in Australia. And he had a fascination with good living – he loved martinis and all the rituals around it, how to make the perfect one, who to drink it with, that spoke to a wider love of life.

“He had a very dry sense of humor and was a great conversationalist – always in a restaurant, I don’t think he ever cooked himself. It was a privilege to have known him.”

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