Alison Lurie, Pulitzer Prize-winning author, dies aged 94

The author of Foreign Affairs was compared to Jane Austen for her meticulous observations of society.

A portrait of Alison Lurie in 1987
Alison Lurie in Paris, in 1987. Image: Ulf Andersen/Getty Images

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alison Lurie has died at a hospice in Ithica, New York, aged 94.

Authors, colleagues and friends have been sharing their loss and consolation for the author and folklorist, commenting that she was "our Jane Austen" for her ability to capture – and puncture – the desires and ambitions of the educated society which her novels depicted.

Lurie is best known for two of her 10 novels: Foreign Affairs, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, and The War Between the Tates, released a decade earlier. Both detail, with wit and keen observation, the extramarital affairs and quiet scandle that unfolds among middle-aged academics. Her work was well-respected by other writers, not least for its edge.  Christopher Isherwood claimed she was "perhaps more shocking than she knows - shocking like Jane Austen, not Genet". Gore Vidal named Lurie as "the Queen Herod of contemporary fiction".

But Lurie was also a career academic herself. A member of Cornell University's faculty, she spent decades teaching children's literature - of which she innately understood the subversive potential - much like Vinner Miner, the central character in Foreign Affairs.

Nick Skidmore, Vintage Classics Senior Editor, said: "Alison Lurie was one of the great social satirists of our time. Her sharp, witty, yet excoriating books dramatised her generation’s social ambition and folly in ways that were always thrilling to witness. Be it intellectual one-upmanship, extramarital bed-hopping, or bitter recriminations, Lurie had a wicked eye for the tragic-comic and the perverse human fascination with disaster-in-the-making."

She is survived by her second husband, fellow novelist Edward Hower; her sister Jennifer Cooke; her sons from her first marriage, John, Jeremy and Joshua Bishop; two stepchildren; and three grandchildren. 

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