Charmian Clift

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Charmian Clift
Studio Portrait of Charmian Clift, 23 June 1941.jpg
Studio Portrait of Charmian Clift, 23 June 1941, by Frederick Stanley Grimes
Charmian Clift

(1923-08-30)30 August 1923
Kiama, New South Wales, Australia
Died8 July 1969(1969-07-08) (aged 45)
Mosman, Sydney, Australia
Notable work
  • High Valley (with George Johnston), 1949
  • The Big Chariot (with George Johnston), 1953
  • The Sponge Divers (with George Johnston), 1955
  • Walk to the Paradise Gardens, 1960
  • Honour's Mimic, 1964
Spouse(s)George Johnston (8 July 1969)

Charmian Clift (30 August 1923 – 8 July 1969) was an Australian writer and essayist. She was the second wife and literary collaborator of George Johnston.


Clift was born in Kiama, New South Wales in 1923. She married George Johnston in 1947. They had three children, the eldest of whom was the poet Martin Johnston. After Clift and Johnston's collaboration High Valley (1949) won them recognition as writers, they left Australia with their young family, working in London before relocating to the Greek island of Hydra to try living by the pen. She met the songwriter Leonard Cohen whilst there in 1960.

Johnston returned to Australia to receive the accolades of his Miles Franklin Award-winner My Brother Jack. Clift moved back to Sydney with their children in 1964, after which her memoirs Mermaid Singing and Peel Me a Lotus and her novel Honour's Mimic became successes.

She was also well known for the 240 essays she wrote between 1964 and 1969 for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Herald in Melbourne. They were collected in the books Images in Aspic and The World of Charmian Clift.[1] In the meantime, Clift and Johnston's marriage was disintegrating under the pressures of their drinking habits and the problems their children had settling into life in Sydney.

On 8 July 1969, the eve of the publication of Johnston's novel Clean Straw for Nothing, Clift committed suicide by taking an overdose[2] of barbiturates in Mosman, a Sydney suburb.[3] Academics Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell suggest in their 2018 book Half the Perfect World that it was the impending publication of Johnston's novel, which Clift knew would lay bare her infidelities whilst on the island of Hydra, which prompted her to suicide.[4] In her posthumously published article My Husband George in that month's edition of POL magazine, she wrote:[5][6]

I do believe that novelists must be free to write what they like, in any way they liked to write it (and after all who but myself had urged and nagged him into it?), but the stuff of which Clean Straw for Nothing is made is largely experience in which I, too, have shared and ... have felt differently because I am a different person ...

Her ashes were later scattered in the rose garden of the Northern Suburbs Crematorium in Sydney.



  • High Valley (with George Johnston), 1949
  • The Big Chariot (with Johnston), 1953
  • The Sponge Divers (with Johnston), 1955
  • Walk to the Paradise Gardens, 1960
  • Honour's Mimic, 1964

Short stories and collections[edit]

  • Strong Man from Piraeus and Other Stories, (with Johnston) 1983


  • Mermaid Singing, Indianapolis, 1956
  • Peel Me a Lotus, London, 1959


  • Images in Aspic, Selected Essays, Sydney, 1965
  • The World of Charmian Clift, Sydney, 1970
  • Trouble in Lotus Land, Sydney, 1990
  • Being Alone with Oneself, Sydney, 1991
  • Charmian Clift: Selected Essays, 2001


  1. ^ The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature, Oxford, South Melbourne, 1994, p. 172.
  2. ^ "Annual bibliography of studies in Australian literature". Australian Literary Studies. University of Tasmania. 11: 443. 1983.
  3. ^ 'Sudden death of writer Charmian Clift aged 44', Canberra Times. Thursday, 10 July 1969. p.8.
  4. ^ P. Genoni and T. Dalziell. 2018. Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955-1964. Clayton: Monash University Press. p.404.
  5. ^ McCooey, Dave (1996). Artful Histories: Modern Australian Autobiography. pp. 167–168, 216. ISBN 9780521567909. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  6. ^ Tucker, Graeme Rochford (January 1991), "From novelist to essayist:the Charmian Clift phenomenon", University of Wollongong Thesis Collection 1954-2016: 435, retrieved 4 January 2016

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]